• Use painter’s tape to stencil letters on your dishes or as a guide to draw straight lines and keep writing even. Sarah Kinney / Monitor staff

  • With Sharpies, painter's tape and some inexpensive dishes, you can design customized dishware to gift with cookies and other goodies. Draw on the dish, then bake to set the ink. Sarah Kinney / Monitor staff

  • With Sharpies, painter's tape and some inexpensive dishes, you can design customized dishware to gift with cookies and other goodies. Sarah Kinney—Monitor staff

  • Using iron-on transfer paper, you can turn grandma’s recipe into a dish towel to be treasured. Sarah Kinney / Monitor staff

  • Using iron-on transfer paper, you can turn grandma's recipe to a dish towel to be treasured. Sarah Kinney—Monitor staff

LiveWell editor
Published: 12/1/2016 2:06:31 PM

During the dark days of winter, the holidays are supposed to stand out as a time of joy and cheer. Part of that is through exchanging presents.

Americans plan to spend more than $800 on average on Christmas gifts this year, according to a Gallup poll.

But those with low or fixed incomes, just can’t spend that kind of dough, and the practice of gift-giving is cause for worry and stress instead of celebration.

What is gift-giving even about anyways? The holiday spirit is about showing you care. So instead of spending money, spend some time and invest some heart.

Here’s some low-cost gift ideas packed with thoughtfulness.

Dish out some love

Decorate plates and dishware to serve up some Christmas cheer. Plain ceramic/stoneware dishes can be purchased at discount stores or department stores for about $1 a piece, or pick some up used from a thrift store. You’ll want to make sure they are oven safe (no plastic).

The only other supplies you’ll need are permanent markers (about $6 for a 10-pack of Sharpies) and an oven.

Then, get coloring.

You can get into the holiday spirit by drawing icons associated with the season. Or, if you’re less artistically-inclined try writing song lyrics from a popular carol.

Alternatively, you could copy a recipe on to the dishware.

Since, it’s difficult to pre-sketch on the dishes you can use painter’s tape as stencils or as rules to keep a straight baseline. While wet, the marker can be wiped off with a damp paper towel.

To cure, bake the dishes for a half hour at about 225 degrees. Let them cool in the oven.

The art won’t wash off in water anymore, but can be dulled in the dishwasher. You’ll want to write “Hand wash only” on the bottom of you pieces before baking.

Top with a recipe of your choice (Christmas cookies? Fruit cake?), wrap with plastic and gift away.

Can something sweet

If you start early, you’d be surprised how many glass jars you can save just from the food you eat. Pickles, jelly, tomato sauce and other jars that have been cleaned can be upcycled and reused.

If you haven’t been saving your recyclables, you can purchase canning jars new for about $9 for a dozen pint jars.

Then, get creative: Cover in glue and roll in glitter. Use acrylic or spray paint to decorate with designs. Tie on a bow.

Fill with a jar recipe (hundreds available online), candy or cookies, or a themed collection of trinkets. For example, you can do movie night with candy and popcorn, spa-themed with nail care accessories, a first aid kit, a sewing kit or pick a color and fill with items that match.

Recipes on display

Much-loved recipes written on paper cards soon get worn, ripped and stained by mysterious kitchen gunk.

Give the cards a break and pass on a family recipe on a kitchen towel.

I picked up a five-pack of flour sack (cotton) towels for about $5. They were 28-inches square, so I cut in half and hemmed to make 10 standard sized kitchen towels. I also got iron-on transfer paper, which works on cotton fabric and can be printed on by a standard inkjet printer. Prices vary depending on brand and the number of pages in a pack, but it’s about $1 per sheet.

Photograph the instructions of favorite family recipes. Maybe it’s Grandma’s secret stroganoff or your mom’s bread recipe. Try to find something that will be special to the recipient.

Using photo-editing software, like Photoshop or one of its free scaled-down competitors online, enhance the contrast of the photos so the handwriting is dark and legible. Then, flip the image so that it is mirror-image (this is important). You may also need to adjust the size of the recipe so that it fits the page and fills out the towel the way you want it to.

Print the image of the recipe on the transfer paper, then iron on the towels according to the instructions that come with the pack. Usually that means using a low temperature with a few passes and letting the page cool before peeling on the back.

If you wanted to add to the gift, you could get some baking equipment, like over mitts and wooden spoons, or an shelf-stable ingredient from the recipe, like spices.

Share a story

If you’re older and have young grandkids, great-grandkids or other relatives, consider passing on a story. Not just any story, but one only you can share. A story about you.

Personal histories are simple to do, just start talking or writing.

Most computers have a microphone program where you can record MP3 files. More sophisticated computer users can also use audio editing programs – many available free online – to edit out umms, opps, coughs and sneezes.

Burn the audio file, or files if you have a lot to share, on to a CD (about $12 for a 50 pack, more for disks that come with cases) or copy to a flash drive (prices vary, but you can get them for less than $10 most places).

If you prefer writing, type or handwrite your story. You can even include copies of photos or important documents. Take your finished work to a copy shop and they can make bound booklets for you to gift.

Think you don’t have something to share? Don’t worry. Start at the beginning. Where were you born? Who were your parents? Where did you live? What was life like?

Consider your “firsts”: first date, first car, first job. What were firsts for the world around you? What were new technologies?

Have you ever traveled abroad?

Even something that may seem commonplace and dull to you can be interesting to someone who doesn’t live your life.

For more ideas and examples, visit pinterest.com/LiveWellNH/crafts-and-gifts.

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