Children’s Present Ideas – Free or Frugal


Today I received a lovely email from a lady who plans to use my Kool-Aid play dough recipe to make gifts for her children. Christmas can be a tough time of year financially if you are providing for a family.  Whether it’s frugal gifts ideas, or things to keep the children occupied with over the holiday period, I hope you find something useful here.
Here’s an Australian play dough recipe (for those of us who don’t normally have access to Kool-Aid 🙂 )  You can make this before hand, or give the ingredients and recipe and let the children help.  It can be made in several different colours and stored in ziplock bags or wide mouth plastic jars or containers.  Add a plastic knife, some cookie cutters, toothpicks, scoops from the washing powder or infant formula, or anything else that will add value to the play experience.  If you have an empty box from refillable baby wipes, it makes a good home for the play dough accessories as the lid is easy for children to manage.
You can also make your own packet mixes for baking – Make up the dry part of a cake, biscuits, or scones; type out the recipe; attach a photo of the finished product on the front of the ziplock bag;  and the child who gets to unwrap that present also gets to BAKE it.
Collect a heap of fabric scraps (ask family members who sew for their off cuts of fabrics and trims, or cut up old clothes that are no longer needed and harvest the material and the buttons) and give each child a little packet with a needle, some thread, and a few spare buttons, and let them sew whatever they like – or borrow a child’s craft book from the library and copy a pattern, or download a craft pattern or simple doll’s dress pattern.
Gather the ingredients for a  science experiment – there’s heaps of little experiments like this crystal snowflake that are fun, but the ingredients are quite inexpensive.

crystal snowflake from Anne Helmenstine

For the little ones, a  plastic egg carton or an ice-cube tray, with bottles of food colouring and an eye dropper will give a pre-schooler hours of fun. (just add water.. 🙂 )
For the more adventurous, purchase some off cuts and seconds from the timber yard and try…
bird nesting box (if you research which birds live in your area, there are often plans to suit specific bird varieties)
a timber boat (or make a whole fleet!)
from Kids Konstruction Korner
Or collect odds from around the house,  and try this one from Martha Stewart:
There are many paper projects for both boys and girls available  as free downloads from the internet.  You have to watch that the printing costs don’t get out of hand if you find a big project, though.
A paper boat from the Toy Maker :
Pinwheels are great fun:
The Toymaker has heaps of cute, cute, cute paper toys to download, not the least of which is this pinwheel using a clever paperclip and buttons design.
Super cute design from Marilyn Scott-Waters
Another I couldn’t go past was this adorable bug box.  How tempting to print and make this to gift a packet of seeds for an aspiring gardener.
Flower seeds, or vegetable seeds, or herb seeds in such a dear little box would have to move you to run out and garden.  If you don’t have pots spare, the bottom half of a milk carton or 2 litre drink container with holes punched in the bottom would do the trick.
For the arty, Google your child’s favourite animal with “+ colouring page” and print out some pictures for them to colour, or browse the many free colouring page sites. There are some incredibly detailed pictures available, including famous art works made into colour pages.  Several sites also have paper dolls for download.
Put all the ingredients for these paper bag puppets from Martha Stewart’s craft pages into a bag, and print out pics of what they will look like with the instructions:
Older children may like to make a castle;
For girls, save little boxes from matches, jewellery, medicine, etc, as well as all sorts of plastic packaging, and off cuts of pretty paper and fabric, put them in a large plastic storer,  and let the children use them make their own dolls house from a large cardboard box, or a small book-case.
Download some audiobooks from Librivox (it’s free) on to CD’s  for car listening or bed time.  Google the cover art of the book and print out for your CD cover.
Check ebay, the book Depository, your local thrift store for cheap books.  Keep an eye on your local library for sales of excess stock.  Some books are still like new, but even some of the beat up ones can be treasures if you choose your author carefully.
This paper whistle would make cool stocking stuffer fun (you can use a coloured paper instead of plain to make it more festive).
You can make your own word search with your child’s favourite bands, animals, friends names, family members (this is also good fun to do for each member of the family to personalise home-made crackers)
Home made fudge/caramel wrapped in cellophane are delicious stocking fillers (pop in just before the event if you have ants!)  as is homemade popcorn with icing sugar or caramel popcorn in little zip lock bags.
If you have older boys you may consider a sleep-under-the-stars camp out.  Wrap up a tin of baked beans, or spam, or some other grossly yukky traditional camp food, and let it be known that it goes with a trip to somewhere out of town to sleep out and cook rough.  (Of course, December in Australia that would be a breeze, but if you’re on the other side of the world, I guess that could be a bit brisk!) Hand reels could work the same way for a fishing trip if you have a lake or river near by.
Happy holidays, folks!

Protecting Your Books



While you can purchase commercially produced, reusable book covers, it is easy as pie to make your own.

Simply make one for each child in a couple of sizes, rather than cover every book you care about.

The one pictured left,  is designed to fit our set of G.A. Henty books from Preston Speed Publishing. These were a considerable investment, and are passing through the hands of multiple little girls. (Poor Henty would be horrified I’m sure, to see his stories covered in pink and purple.)

My goal is that when the first three are finished reading them, they will still be in good, clean order for the fourth girl to read, and suitable to pass down to their own children when the time comes.

You could make the cover from any fabric, but I chose polar fleece because;

  • I can’t sew for peanuts, and polar fleece does not need hemming.
  • It has hydrophobic properties.  While it won’t help if the book is dumped in the bath, it will protect from splashes, wet hands and sticky surfaces.
  • I happened to have  some on hand.

Here’s how easy it is:


Cut a rectangle to suit your book size.  For a large, Reader’s Digest hardcover book, I cut the above rectangle sized at 56cm x 25cm.  For the Henty collection, I made another rectangle sized 43cm x 23cm.


Fold in a 10cm section, and sew top and bottom.  This is to slip over the front cover of the book.


27cm from the now left edge of your cover, sew a piece of elastic. This will hold the cover in place, and you can also tuck the excess on the right, into the elastic as you read.

sew elastic at top and bottom

The right side of the cover extends with length to allow for different thickness of volumes, and so that when the book is closed, it can be flipped over to the front, to protect the exposed edge of pages (as pictured in the very first photo).


Add a ribbon bookmark to avoid finding combs, tissues, leaves or other goodies used as emergency bookmarks.  It also leaves no excuse for flipping the book upside down while open, to hold a place.

Decorate with beads, ribbons, embroidery, iron on motifs or a cut out of fabric in another colour.  Experiment with fabrics such as denim, leather, corduroy, or micro suede.  These can be as elaborate as you have time and inclination for, or the “low sew” option of polar or micro fleece can be a simple gift even a child  can make for friends or family.

If you are a crafty soul and make something beautiful, please post a picture on your blog, and leave a message here, so I can see your creations 🙂

Anijsblokjes – not cigars!


Further chronicles of our shoe box adventures, where two families from different countries swap through the post, a box of things representing their home country;

I laughed with a sense of helpless bewilderment, wondering what Anitz was thinking, sending me cigars? But they’re not! Not even nearly. These little packets have blocks inside, and seriously, you could never smoke something that smelled so strongly of aniseed. LOL!

The instructions, thankfully translated for an English only girl, say to put 1-4 blocks into warm milk. All of my senses recoiled at the idea of such a strong aniseed flavour going into milk. That’s just wrong, I thought.

But curiosity overcame judgment, and being a literal kind of person, I opted to try 2, taking that as an average, blocks in warm milk. This is very good stuff. Not at all what I would normally expect from a hot, milk drink, but truly worth the leap of faith it took to try it! It was really a surprisingly pleasant taste.

Anitz, you good chooser of strange and exotic treats!

The best gift


The greatest love a man can have is to lay down his life for his friends.

When I was born, I was innocent. As I grew in knowledge and understanding, I lived as though there was no moral law given by God. I did not acknowledge my Creator, I lied, was envious and disobeyed my parents. As a result of this, I was destined for judgment by a pure and holy God.

Because God is holy, just and righteous, I could not escape judgment by any thing I could do for myself. Just the same as if you were a murderer, no just and righteous judge in our judicial system would overlook your murder, on the grounds that you also gave to charity, or had a remarkable talent, or volunteered in an old people’s home. None of those things, great as they may be, changes the fact that you committed a crime. Not even the man next to you having committed 100 crimes, makes you any less culpable for the one crime you committed. In this same way, even though I may take note of others who also sinned, it didn’t change my status as a sinner, a criminal in God’s system, having broken His laws.

There was nothing I could do to save myself from the punishment that justice required. However, Jesus Christ came as a man to live amongst us; He lived a sinless life and died as a sacrifice in our place. No greater love, no greater love, no greater love hath any man, than a man lay down his life for his friends.

How do I avail myself of the greatest gift of all, the gift of life and a pardon, of mercy, and not just these, though they are precious, but adoption as sons and daughters of the living God? Repent and believe.

Turn completely from my life of living for myself. Believe in Jesus as the only way of salvation, the Son of God slain for the sins of men, who took upon Himself the wrath of a holy God, that we be spared the judgment due us and eternal separation from God.

Isn’t He marvelous? Isn’t He worthy of our praise? How marvelous He is!

Psalm 8:3,4

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?