Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Living Richly In Retirement: Should I Make It Myself?

This week, my goal is to pull out my canning jars and bottle stash.  My sister in law will be celebrating a birthday and I plan to make ice cream toppings-at least four types. So far I’ve chosen Raspberry sauce with Chambourd and hot fudge, I am still looking for two more.  These recipes will be canned in a water bath canner (small adjustments needed).  My sister in law will get a set of four for a gift.  Since each recipe will make a minimum of six jars, I will have many jars of each type to put in my “gift pantry” until needed as another gift. These will be given individually or as sets over the next few months. I also plan to make chocolate raspberry liqueur after visiting this site-in my family we are crazy about both.

No sooner had I had a conversation with my son about pulling things out of the storage unit than I went online and found Tamara’s blog on making Limoncello. Tamara has been blessed with excess lemons and has decided to make lemon bars and other good stuff-along with her Limoncello.  While I’m sure she will love having some herself, she figures some of that lovely liqueur will make great hostess gifts. I certainly agree and wish I lived closer!

The reason I share this is because both cases are perfect examples of casual do it yourself or homemade gift type projects.  Contrary to the belief of some, homemade gifts or making things from scratch do not always require excessive amounts of skill, having the “crafty gene” or huge amounts of extra time.  However, invariably when I write (here or elsewhere) on the topic of do it yourself, people seem to assume that at least one of the above requirements must exist-especially when it comes to homemade gift giving. 

It is true that in order to both have the things I need and want (freezers and pantries full of homemade food, nice things in the house that I occasional make myself, homemade gifts for twenty five people at the holidays), I make things year around.  But making it yourself is just like many other things in life-occasionally it gets really intensive. The rest of the time it gets fit into the rest of my busy retirement lifestyle.  The canning project mentioned above will take a full day-perhaps two of labor. Not only that, but it will take most of my attention during the daylight hours. That’s unusually labor intensive for a do it yourself project for me. In this case the reward is the amount of output at the end-as well as the cost as compared to gourmet store bought or mail ordered items.

Most of my projects are less intensive and often I can do them while I do something else.  Awhile back I wrote about my one page memory projects.  This past summer my brother and his family traveled to Europe for three weeks and while there he went to every house he lived in (four). I had visited the outside of our home in Germany and the town. My brother, being who he is, knocked on door and explained who he was and asked to see the house! The end result is that I now have a picture of the inside of the house, showing the balcony and they layout.  My next page for my kids will be about the house and things that went on there and were everyone slept.  This is the kind of project I work on over a week or so at least. I keep it on a tray, write down memories as they come to me and work on the writing and the pages in the evening while watching TV.  I will share a photo soon.

 The cost of this project is free except for the printing of the pictures and a few pieces of scrapbook paper.  I then put them aside until I find the perfect frame (again, not a special trip-I find the frames during my yard sale escapades, spending time as I would anyway).  The total cost for this gift might be five dollars at the most, and is one that cannot be purchased in any store. One could also do these as part of a scrapbook.

Over the years, there are a few things I have learned about making gifts myself.  The first and most important, I suppose, is that you know the person you are giving things to-at least in a small way. You may remember my church dinner groups. One couple could not each chocolate in anyway.  Bringing chocolate raspberry liqueur, even with an “I made it myself” smile would be inappropriate. Homemade gift giving doesn’t mean making something because one thinks it is cute and giving it without consideration of the recipient.  While it is true in theory that it’s the gift that counts, this would be pushing it.

The second thing is that everyone has their own gifts and interests and gifts should stem from there. All homemade gifts do not have to be crafty. Yes, I am a quilter, but only a small portion of my gifts are sewing related (I do give one person a bed sized quilt each year).  The memory page mentioned above requires almost no skill.  Most of us have hobbies that can be translated to gifts. Photographers can give unique photos or offer a family picture. Homemade and gourmet food products are always welcome. I’ve made it clear more than once that I would love to receive a meal or so a week from a family member. Gardeners have the option to give many gifts, most of them almost free.  Handymen can give services or make things. The homemade stove top potpourri shown below is made from regular grocery items but something most of use would not make ourselves and is a wonderful gift/stocking stuffer.

The third most important thing (especially if you are looking to downsize the holidays or lower costs), is to begin with what you have on hand, and acquire things casually and as cheaply/freely as possible.  In my case, my hobbies include baking and canning and preserving, sewing, writing, playing with paper, travel and photography.  As such, I have many of the things on hand now to make gifts, with no real expenditure.  I add to my supplies through sales as I see things.  I’m in the process of sewing a simple party set for the fourth of July-picnic table cover, coasters, cocktail and large napkins. This gift will be made from fabric that I purchased on sale and added to my stash.  One level it is free because I spent no money to create the set-although this is a conundrum for me in terms of figuring cost. With the exception of the two small items, I have everything already to make the above mentioned sauces.  While neither of these gifts are free, they incur almost no out of pocket expenses-and supplies are replenished with items on sale, free, or bought at deep discounts (in my case with those gift cards I mentioned before in “funding hobbies while downsizing”).

Finally, I will say that when it comes to homemade gifts presentation can be everything. If I have made something like the table set above without spending any money, I am willing to go the extra minute to give it even more oomph. To this end, I am always on the lookout for pretty bottles and jars, vases and bowls, baskets and picture frames-even flower pots that can be used or painted. In my case I usually find them at flea markets and yard sales and use a little water and paint.  Last week I actually found and old (not antique) bassinet for a couple bucks at a yard sale, along with a real picnic basket that was a dollar or so (which will hold my picnic set).

Oh, and one last thought. If you’re going to make something, assuming it’s a small thing, why not make more than one. First, because you’ll lower the cost. Second because of the time factor-it usually takes much less time to make say, five jars of barbecue sauce at one time than one five different times. Third, because that means you won’t have to think twice about a last minute gift, what to take to a party, or even what to donate when someone asks you to donate to a silent auction, bazaar  or other event. You’ve ended up with a win win situation for all.  Which is why I am making two of those party sets while I am at it.

And the fairy garden above? I’m trying to convince my green thumbed sister that this is her business, or at least her new family gift of the future. As long as I get the first one!


  1. Love hearing about the home made toppings.What a great idea for gifts! I love to make sets of greeting cards, wrap them up with a ribbon and tuck them into a handmade (reuseable) gift bag.I love making cards and don't have that many people to send them to, so making sets as gifts gives me an outlet!

    My best friend and I have always exchanged baked goods at the holidays instead of gifts..usually cakes of some sort.I make a cranberry almond coffee cake some years, and she bakes a mean sour cream cake with nutty topping..

    life is good!

    1. Thats a great idea with the card sets, although I am just exploring card making!

  2. Barb,

    I love all of your ideas for home made gifts. You and I have a lot of hobbies in common and I always like to see what you are up to.

    Have you tried making homemade vanilla with vanilla beans and vodka? It's quick, easy and makes a beautiful gift at the holidays. Just Google 'homemade vanilla' and you will find lots of tutorials.

    1. Never made it, but I am looking forward to trying some new recipes now that I am settling in. Still need to mkae some altitude adjustments in my cooking!

  3. Hi Barb, sorry for responding so late - blame it on no WiFi during a portion of our trip - but I agree, I wish you lived closer to as I'd certainly send a little bottle of limoncello (once it's done) your way!

    Baking and cooking from scratch are big creative outlets for me, similar to your quilting, and I enjoy every aspect. Someone suggested in a follow up comment on my limoncello post, that it would be easier to just buy the stuff instead of making it, and while I do understand the comment, it would rob me of all of the fun doing it myself.

    So often in life it's the journey, not the destination that provides meaning and satisfaction. This post, and my recent, modest limoncello efforts, are good examples of enjoying the journey.


Things I'm Enjoying This Monday-And A Couple Things That Are Frustrating Me!!

One of the many reasons I don't do serious (other than visiting family) travel during the summer is the chance to stay at home. Warm w...