What’s in the Box?

What’s in the Box?


Sooooo, I’ve decided to share with you something VEERRRRRY personal!!! That’s right, a top secret sneak peek inside “the box,” but only a little peek.  Can I trust you to keep a secret?  Well, can I?  Hmmmm…. Aaaaalright, ssshhhhhhh, be very quiet.  It’s over there under the Christmas tree.  You’ll have to get down on your knees, because it’s slidden aaaallll the way back there in the corner, under the tree branches.  You see it?  It’s the one  in the brown box with a black lid and tied with a red ribbon.  You see it?  You got it.  

Okay, now pull it out, but shhhhhh, very slowly, and be super quiet.  We don’t want anyone to hear us.  More.  More.  More.  Okay there.  Now untie the bow.  Slide the lid off the box.  Hee hee…. oh I’m so excited.  

Well?  What do you think?  Do you like it?  What do you mean, “What is it?”  It’s a gift.  I made it for you.  🙂

Over the years I’ve tried to give Christmas gifts that would be treasured keepsakes for the recipients, things that can’t be bought, would be impossible to replace, and absolutely unique.  Many times out of budget restrictions, but always out tender love for my family.  With a little bit of a repertoire under my belt now, after many many years of gift-giving, I thought I would share some of the ideas I’ve come up with, just in case you could use a little inspiration, having the same motivations.  🙂

DSCN7886     With much of our family living many states away, pictures were always prizes.  The first gift I gave wasn’t too terribly creative.  It was just a FAMILY PHOTO with my parents-in-law, but it was taken professionally (I had a coupon for Olan Mills) when my oldest daughter was about a year old, and when they were visiting.  They hadn’t had a professional photo taken of themselves in years, my goodness, if ever, so it was a nice thing and truly a keepsake.  We gave the photo to them, and to everyone in the family.

Another year I ran across a poem about LAUNDRY (of all things), which is something we all do, spending hours sorting, loading, transferring, ironing, hanging, folding, etc., but who of us has ever had anything pretty hanging on the walls to look at while we’re in there slaving away (my laundry room was in my dark, dark, dark, dark unfinished basement)?  So I made SHADOW BOX COLLAGES with my poem, and miniature little laundry items (mini box of soap, dollhouse washboard, paper doll clothes, little Monopoly piece irons, thimble, buttons, etc.).  [No Photo, sad, I didn’t think to take pictures way back then, before cell phones and social media].  I gave one to each of the ladies on my list hoping she could now have something to decorate her laundry room with.  At least we could be thinking of each other when we were in there folding that laundry and looking at that poem.  

I’ve also done the same sort of thing with the SAND DOLLAR poem.  If you’re not familiar, click the link and read the poem.  Sand dollars can be ordered online.  Did you know if you brake a sand dollar open that there are 5 doves inside?  Makes for a neat little story, and nice little gift.

Another year my husband, who was into woodworking at the time, and specifically scroll saw work, made clocks, step stools, music box pianos, and various things that we gave away.  If you don’t have a scroll saw this is not probably a project you’ll be able to do, but there are nice little woodworking projects on Pinterest that don’t require any scroll sawing.   And Home Depot has books with wood crafts.  (*Pardon the dust on my clock.  Holy cow, I didn’t realize how dusty it was up there on that shelf until I took that picture.  Yikes!!!  I’ll get right on that as soon as I post this!)


Since our family lived states away from our other family, we actually did a lot of photo gifts.  Here’s another FAMILY PHOTO we did a few years after that first one (I think I had a coupon for Sears this time).  This time I decorated the 5 x 7 picture frames with willow twigs that I harvested from nearby public lands, along with some moss, dried wildflowers, leaves, etc., and put our family picture inside each one.  To make these all you need are some cheap picture frames, a saw or pruning tool to harvest willow twigs and cut them to size, some hot glue to fasten the twigs to the frame, some wildflowers, grass, leaves, and whatever else you think would be pretty.


One year, after my father-in-law passed (in November, just before the holidays), I took our copy of a HOME MOVIE VIDEO tape they had given to us several years earlier, and put it together with a copy of narration (on cassette tape) that my husband and I recorded during one of their visits (we actually made them sit down and watch the movie with us and tell us where the videos were taken, who the people were that were in them, and various other miscellaneous information, because if they didn’t tell us, all of that would be lost and the video they gave us would be worthless).   The video they gave us was of course silent, because there was no sound in the old home movies of the 1950’s, but when they transferried it to VHS it was apparently customary to put obnoxious music with it.  I had to figure a way to transfer the vhs video, mute the music, and add our narration from the cassette tapes, putting it all together on a DVD.  What I ended up with wasn’t high quality, or even remotely professionally done, but I somehow managed to accomplish my mission.  The family thought at first that I had just transferred the old movies to DVD format, but when they plugged it in to watch and heard grandma and grandpa’s voices telling the stories (that we would NEVER get to hear them tell again) of what we were seeing, it truly was special.  Nobody in the family but mom (grandma) knew we’d made that narration, so it was a priceless surprise when they received the videos and plugged them in to watch.  It made for a truly memorable Christmas, for us who gave them as well as those who received them.

One year my mom had asked me if I could do some research on the boat my dad served on during his enlistment in the Navy, during the Korean war.  After many months I was able to come up with and give my dad a picture collage for his wall, with photographs of him and of his boat (a tribute to him – of which I have no photograph, sorry), and a printed biography of his ship from the laying of the hull, through the wars, and to its final retirement.  Since it was also featured in a Hollywood movie (The Enemy Below), I also got a copy of the movie to go with it all, that maybe Dad would enjoy watching.  My mom knew that it was something that would mean so much to my dad and wanted me to hurry and find the information before he was too far gone mentally to enjoy it.  

That’s when I also decided time was of the essence to turn all of my FAMILY HISTORY research into a book, complete with pedigree charts, family sheets, maps, biographies, and photographs, while dad could possibly enjoy that too, and perhaps even lend some input.  I gave a copy to each of my sisters, daughters, and several other family members.  I typed the stories and printed them out, and put all the papers into the order I wanted for the book, then I took it all to Office Max and borrowed their copier to make several copies.  I also made covers at home, and Office Max laminated them for me.  Then I had them do the ring binding to make them into books.  At a nickle a copy it can get pretty expensive to do it this way.  But if you can scan your pages and make your book in a Word program on your computer, saving it as a PDF file, then you can upload it to a place like lulu.com that offers much cheaper book printing.


A couple of years ago I thought I had finished writing my book, Come for Supper, the memoirs of a reluctant hostess, but since it was too costly to have it printed in color I decided to take some of the photographs from the book and use them to make a calender.  I then gave a book and calendar to everyone in my family, and to a few close friends.  The book was just a proof copy for which I was hoping to get feedback on the recipes and editing helps, so the calendar was the real gift.  Walgreens did a very nice job, and it was fairly easy to do.  You just upload your photographs to their online site and then create your style of calendar.  You can add all the American holidays, and even add in special personal holidays – like birthdays and anniversaries.  When your project is complete you place your order, and pick your calendars up at your local Walgreens location.  A calendar is a good practical gift, but a personalized calendar is a special gift I think.  Or thought!!!  

Blank fan tree

Another year I created a hand drawn, full color, seven generations FAMILY TREE POSTER for the wall, and filled it in with all the names, dates, occupations, and military info I had for each person, and then gave a poster to each of my family members that was hopefully decorative enough they could hang on the wall, if they wanted.  If you are a family history buff you probably already have all the info you  need to fill in your poster.  If not, you can always start by going to Ancestry.com and initiating some research.  It truly is fascinating what you will find out about your family and what you learn about history when you start doing your family history.  

I actually started by going to my local LDS library.  The ladies that worked there were very helpful to show me where to start and how and where to look for information. I also was very grateful that I had gotten together with my grandmother before she died and asked her questions, and also looked through her old photographs to see who some of our family were.  Not all of what she told me turned out to be 100% accurate, but her info gave me a good place to start.

If you would like to use my poster design I’m happy to share it with you.  Message me!

Another year I took all of my recipes, typed them and printed them, and put them into special three-ring binders — which I happened to find at Wal-mart, then gave them to my daughters, who were, up until then, frequently calling, texting, or asking, “Mom, how do you  make your _____?”  Now my girls have all my recipes, and in a neat, nice format.

I have seen these cookbook binders at book and stationery stores and online.  This one ( La Cuisine Recipe Keeper by New Seasons) was especially nice as it had it’s own matching printer paper, tabbed dividers for each section (Appetizers, Soups & Salads, Side Dishes, Main Dishes, Dessert, and Misc.), plus pockets in each section for keeping recipe clippings. It had several pages in the front with “Cooking Terms and Methods” explained, Measurement equivelents, Substitutions, How to check for doneness on baked goods, casseroles, meats, sauces, vegetables, etc., Baking Secrets, Cookie Tips, Grilling and Barbecue Basics, Herbs and Spices, a Cheese list, a Wine list (with storing, cooking, and serving information, as well as Pairing Wine with Food), and finally Food Safety Tips.  It also had sheet protectors, so the printed sheets (provided) could be placed in the sleeves for protection, and also sheet protectors for recipe cards (provided).

The hardest part was typing all my recipes — not hard, just time consuming, but once they were typed they were easliy printed in triplicate, making the process of putting mulitple books together a breeze.  But, if you didn’t want to type each recipe, you could certainly just take all your recipes to the print shop and print them off, then cut and paste them to the sheets.

Another year I scanned and made prints of all my mom’s and paternal grandma’s old photographs.  I used my printer at home to scan the photos and then saved them to a USB drive, and took them to Wal-mart (Walgreens can do them too, or anywhere that prints photos) to have prints made.  I wanted each book to be hand-made with what looked like the original photos.  I thought this would be a nice way of sharing all our family’s old photographs with my sisters, who live far and wide from each other, so each of us would have our own set, and be able to pass them down to our children.  It also would preserve those pictures from being destroyed by fire, or flood, or whatever things can happen.

This year I took a stack of old letters, written by my father-in-law during his military tour in Korea and scanned them, along with as many photographs from that time as I could get my hands on, and then typed all of the letters, put them in chronological order, and made a book, titled LETTERS FROM KOREA, for my husband, our kids, and his family.  I used my Word program to type the letters and do all the layout for the book, then saved it as a PDF file (with embedded fonts) and uploaded it to lulu.com.  I designed my own front and back covers and uploaded them as well, although there is an option for  creating the covers at lulu if one isn’t sure how to do it on their own.  Once successfully uploaded, the website walks you through the process of making your book, and then you just order as many printed copies as you want.  It is fairly inexpensive by comparison to the local print shops.  My author’s cost on a 160 page book was around $10 per book, plus shipping.


This next year I am thinking of giving HOME MOVIE videos to each of my daughters, of all their growing up years.  I’ve given them videos of the family vacations that we’ve taken and video collages of one daughter’s wedding day, but the old home movies need to be next.  And what’s awesome is that most of the home videos have already been converted to DVD format and need only to be copied, so it shouldn’t be too terribly hard.  Figuring out the computer program will be the hardest part, I’m sure.  I think they will cherish having those videos of themselves as they always enjoyed watching those movies of themselves when they were little.  And while I’m at it, the photo albums of their younger days and their baby books would be a nice little package deal to pass along.  I know it will bring back memories, and give them something to compare their own childrens’ development to.


And I also found a super cute idea for a personalized GUESS WHO game, where the photos of the gameboard are replaced with family member photos (or friends photos), and then the questions of course have to be replaced, hopefully with fun quirky things that will make everyone laugh or feel special as they are playing the game with you, or with each other.

Aaaaaaaalrightythen…. that’s all I’ve got in my box to show  you.  If  you were running short on ideas for what to give your family, perhaps this gave you at least a pocketful of inspiration — if that’s what you were looking for.  I do wish you the very merriest of Christmases and do hope you get to spend the holiday season with the ones you hold dearest in life.  Be blessed, and be a blessing!!!!

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’… When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.  And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Matthew 2:1-2 & 10-11



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