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Green Holidays

Gifts Beyond Boxes

Have you considered gifts that go beyond a price tag and a fancy box? Some of the most wonderful, personal gifts I've received are those from friends are low in cost and priceless in value. For example, I love Icelandic wool sweaters, and one of my friends who visits a nearby Goodwill store periodically, looks out for them when she visits. In the past two years she has bought two brand new ones -- for $8 each -- as a gift to me.

A neighbor working on his Ph.D. is a second generation Mac guy and had worked as a tech in an office during the summer. He liked to keep his hand in this -- a nice diversion from cutting edge research -- and helped me set up my Mac. He was my tech in residence for two years while he was here.

I have another friend who makes extra soup, cookies or bread when she thinks a friend is busy or sick and can use it. She provides a recipe along with the gift. Another friend boarded my cat for three days while a guest, who didn't like cats, stayed with me while she consulted local physicians.

Gifts of your time and services, or that extra special attention to detail, adds up to a wonderful gift no matter what the cost.

18 Earth-Friendly Holiday Tips

Greeting Cards

* Send holiday wishes via e-mail. Scan in photos or drawings by yourself or your children.

* Instead of sending standard greeting cards, decorate postcards and save envelopes--3" x 5", 4" x 6" are good sizes. For paper, use bristol board; watercolor paper, poster board or cut matting scraps you can find in a frame shop or art store or two blank index cards glued together. Glue a photo, make a collage, draw a picture with felt tipped markers, write a poem or copy a favorite recipe on one site. If there is room, decorate each corner with a small sketch of holly leaves or line drawing of a snowflake. Use the second side for your message, a stamp and the recipient's name and address. Alternatively, you can design postcards on the computer and print them on Avery postcards available at Office Depot and Staples.

Gift Wrapping

* Gift tags from Christmas cards

* Gift tags made from the same greeting card

* Save the front page of greeting cards you receive to make gift tags. Cut them into rectangles, circles and hearts or cut out one of the motifs and glue it to a piece of poster board. If there is writing on the back, cut up the cards and save the parts with blank spots for gift tags. Use a hole punch to make a hole in them.

* Choose wrapping that can be recycled or reused. Wrap in cloth pillowcases, socks, scarves, dishtowel (great for a a cookbook or kitchen tools), and drawstring bags. Make an assortment from odds and ends from sewing projects, old jeans and outgrown clothes.

* Decorate plain kraft paper, newsprint, paper bags,or recycled tissue paper with drawing, writing or stamped images for wrapping. For a batik effect, use a white candle to draw stars, bows, trees or berries all over the paper, fairly close together. Cover the paper with acrylic paint. When dry, draw outlines or add decorations with felt tipped markers. Print the paper with homemade, circular printing blocks--a small half potato, a spool of thread or a small glass jar -- you can use two or three different blocks in different sizes on the same paper. Dip each shape into acrylic paint and print on the paper. When completely dry, leave them as plain circles or draw on hooks and strings to resemble ornaments. Or use use the paper plain and decorate with large tag made from old greeting cards and raffia-- or tie an extra ornament on it.

Collage box
Gift for a good cook with a collage box top.

* Decorate a box with a collage instead of wrapping paper. Find a cardboard shoe box, sweater box, hosiery box--whatever the size you need. Collect interesting papers and images: candy bar wrappers, worn sheet music, pictures from random Christmas catalogs you've been getting in the mail, old wrapping paper and calendars are good for this project. Glue the back of one piece and put on the lid. Then apply one after the other, overlapping the images if you want to. Glue the images over the side of the top lid, carefully folding them over the corners. Cover the inside of the lid too. For a glossy finish, use acrylic spray which is available in art stores.

* Shred paper from catalogs to protect contents of gift packages when you mail them.

Decorating the Tree

* Buy odd ornaments at thrift stores and personalize them with your own designs in acrylic paint and/or gold tipped pens.

* Got a new baby? Spray paint one of their first outgrown shoes, write their name and the date on it and you've got a keepsake ornament. If your child has outgrown a dollhouse, add any miniature furniture that may be left to the tree.

Quick Home Decorations

* For a centerpiece: buy any kind of artificial fruit at thrift shops. Spray paint gold or silver. Arrange in a dish by themselves or with evergreen clippings from a wreath or Christmas tree. Store to reuse it next year.

* Group pots of red flowers--begonias, cyclamen and kalanchoe as a centerpiece and give them as gifts to the guests after dinner.

* Spray paint several wood berry boxes and fill with ornaments, pine cones, or sprigs of evergreen and berries.

* Place several brandy snifters or wine glasses filled with candy canes on the table. For place cards, decorate a small tag with a drawing of a candy cane along with the person's name.

* Switch to cloth napkins---collect varied ones in the same color at thrift stores. Tie one at each place setting with raffia, and insert a cinnamon stick and dried eucalyptus leaves or dried flowers.

* For a place card, write each person's name on a flat stone with acrylic paint or gold felt tipped pen.

* For a place card/gift, buy potted rosemary plants for each guest, put a little bow on top, and attach a card with the person's name on it.

* Place bowls of unused ornaments and potpourri around the room. You can reuse last year's potpourri buy adding essential oil to it.

* For candle holders, put a pillar candle in an old Christmas tree stand. If you have extra, give them as gifts. Alternatively, paint tuna fish cans with acrylic paints, fill with pillar candles in different sizes and group them around the room.

* For even more ideas, be sure to rummage through the many how-to articles in our archives. For example, how about gift boxes made from cereal boxes, and ornaments from clothes pins?

Reena Kazmann offers hundreds of beautiful and innovative gifts made from recycled, reused and natural materials at her web-based gallery, All price ranges, starting at $6.

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