A Simple Christmas – 10 Easy Christmas Gift Ideas

Christmas is two weeks away.  If your Christmas shopping isn’t finished, it’s time to face a few uncomfortable realities.

Christmas girl wrapping gifts










Reality number one: One of the biggest stressors surrounding Christmas in North America is the pressure of giving gifts.  While I l-o-v-e giving gifts, I’m not so in love with the craziness and elevated expectations surrounding Christmas gift-giving.  Simple and stress do not mesh. 

Reality number two: Christmas gift-giving can be downright expensive.  You may have noticed that America is in a bit of an economic downturn right now. (That’s a rose-colored view of reality.) With so many families barely (if at all) managing to hold onto their homes, it makes no sense to be spending food money or December’s mortgage payment on Christmas presents.  No sense!

Reality number three: If you’re reading this, you are either my mother (Hi, Mom!), or you have yet to complete your Christmas shopping.  That means you have no time to make all those great crafts you pinned on Pinterest, no time to find the perfect gift, and no time to get it all ordered, wrapped, and shipped before the big day.

Reality number four: Santa…well, let’s just say he doesn’t always come through.

10 Easy Christmas Gift Ideas

With those four harsh realities in mind, let your expectations go!

It’s time to think simple.

Let’s look at some easy Christmas gift ideas that will relieve your holiday stress, take the strain off your wallet, and leave you with valuable time to focus on your littles or hubby who really don’t want to spend the next two weeks shopping.

10 Easy Christmas Gift Ideas

fancy_numbers_fonts_clipart_font2_1_PivloDotComFood – There are many, many food options, and The Simple Homemaker the people on your gift list would be delighted to receive any of them.  Fill a date night or care basket with spaghetti, a jar of sauce, some breadsticks, parm, and cookies; give it to a couple or non-cooking adult.  Bake bread, cookies, brownies, snack mix, or whatever your specialty is, package them attractively and affordably (try these gorgeous upcycled gift canisters), and distribute to everyone on your list. If you make it a tradition, you don’t have to rethink every year.  My godmother always gave each of her many nieces and nephews a can of nuts—we loved that we had something to unwrap and didn’t have to share! My mother’s cookie platters are the stuff of legend.  My children often give Daddy the store-bought treats he loves but doesn’t often get during the year, because the poor dear is stuck with our homemade goodies.  (Insert violins of sympathy.) He enjoys the clutter-free gifts, and we like that he shares.  Wait until after Christmas to get food gift packs like Hickory Farms for ridiculously low prices.  Check out these simple and cute, albeit charmingly corny, ideas.

fancy_numbers_fonts_clipart_font2_2_PivloDotCom10 Easy Christmas Gift IdeasCharity – Rather than spending money on more stuff, make a donation to a charity in that person’s name.  A few of our favorites are World Vision, Heifer International, and Compassion International.  For a few years in a row, one of my daughters asked for a donation of chicks to be made in her name.  We have more fun selecting a goat or ducklings to make life-altering changes to a needy family and community than we do buying another toy that will soon be forgotten.

fancy_numbers_fonts_clipart_font2_3_PivloDotComPractical – You can kill two partridges in a pear tree with one stone by filling your children’s stockings with practical items.  If the budget allows, make the gifted necessities a little more exciting than normal by, say, bumping up to the superman undies, handmade soap, or the musical toothbrush. (Those are really annoying, so think twice about that one.)  People on a fixed budget often appreciate practical gifts as well.

10 Easy Christmas Gift Ideasfancy_numbers_fonts_clipart_font2_4_PivloDotComPersonal – Give something the recipient loves that has a shared sentimental value.  My daughter, for example, gave her younger brother one of her toys that he always liked and played with when they played together.  It is now his favorite and goes everywhere with him.  Another great idea comes from my sister-in-law.  We always share recipes that don’t make anyone gag, so one year she wrote all her favorites on recipe cards, organized them in a fun box, and gave it to me.  My children and I love going through it, even though we’ve read and used them dozens of times already.  Treasured family recipes work as well.  Pictures are always great, and they do not need to be in a fancy scrapbook to have value.

fancy_numbers_fonts_clipart_font2_5_PivloDotComFreecycle or used gifts – Don’t be afraid to give something that costs nothing.  My children love getting a box of used books or piano music.  While they get excited over the occasional new book as well, the price of the used books allows me to go all out on that little indulgence.  Don’t neglect Freecycle.org either.  Last year I was given about $100 worth of Legos for free.  After I bleached out the cigarette smell and bought a nice container, it was MORE than gift-worthy!

fancy_numbers_fonts_clipart_font2_6_PivloDotCom10 Easy Christmas Gift IdeasTime together later – Plan a lunch date, afternoon tea, or outing together.  It does not have to be expensive.  One of my favorite life memories is watching Anne of Green Gables with my grandmother at her farm while savoring Grandpa’s roast beef sandwiches and purple grapes for the first time in my life.  I was 16.  No purchased gift can replace that memory, especially now that we live 2000 miles apart.

fancy_numbers_fonts_clipart_font2_7_PivloDotComLetters – One year we stamped 52 envelopes and addressed them to my grandparents.  Each contained a piece of stationery or small card.  We then photographed them all spread out and sent the picture to my grandparents.  Their gift that year was a letter a week from our home to theirs.  Postcards work also.


10 Easy Christmas Gift Ideasfancy_numbers_fonts_clipart_font2_8_PivloDotComFamily Gift – Rather than buying for each person in another family, give one gift for the whole family.  If there are a lot of families in your extended family, consider drawing family names so you can each focus on one family.  Some favorites we have given or received in the past include magazine subscriptions, zoo or museum passes, fun activities like this ice cream ball, group games like Freeze Up or Bucket Blast, and this great book full of fun games, Hopscotch, Hangman, Hot Potato and Ha Ha Ha.

fancy_numbers_fonts_clipart_font2_9_PivloDotComEbooks and audio – Save on shipping by buying electronic downloads and delivering them via email.  Naturally, you want to ensure your recipient is tech-savvy first.  Some ideas include real food ebooks for the health conscious, healthy desserts for the sweets lover, or an early gift of a family Advent activity book.  Find free music or purchase song downloads (such as these) to create an individualized CD.  Consider books or other audio downloads, including downloadable homeschool resources for the often-strapped-for-cash homeschool families on your list.  Use librivox.org to put some of your favorite (free) audio books on a CD.

1010 Easy Christmas Gift IdeasTradition – Simplify the decision-making process by giving a gift that represents a collection or tradition followed each year.  For example, my mother gives us a couple pieces of a nativity scene every Christmas.  It is one of the gifts we most look forward to.  An ornament that represents an event from the past year is another great idea that many families practice.

What are your easy Christmas gift ideas?

TSHM Very Merry Disclosure Statement: Some of these links are my personal affiliate links.  (Some of the links are not affiliate links; they’re just really cool.)  What does that mean?  If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase from the site, I will receive a small commission.  For my family, that means homeschool books…even at Christmastime.  You are by no means obligated to make a purchase through my links, but it does merry up our holidays a bit when you do.

Linked to Weekend Whatever at Your Thriving Family.

A Simple Christmas

The next few Simple Homemaker posts will be dealing with the how-tos of enjoying a simple Christmas.  This post in the series, however, deals with the “how come.”

In many ways, Christmas is the antithesis of simple. 


Christmas in North America has come to mean stretching the budget so far it will take nearly until next Christmas to get it back into shape.  It involves spoiling already spoiled children.  It means gathering with family members who often are only under the same roof because they have to be.  It involves gorging on so much food and so many sweets that one family’s resultant ailments could singlehandedly support a gastroenterologist and a dentist for the next three months.  At least that’s how the Hollywood version of Christmas appears.

Christmas was never meant to be complicated.

The Biblical account of the first Christmas is straightforward and simple.  It conjures up images of a small baby in a crude manger, the simple love of a young mother, and the implementation of the Father’s plan of salvation.

Why do we complicate Christmas?

Why do we take the simple and beautiful and make it complex and, in many ways, ugly?  Why do we approach the ultimate heavenly Gift with an air of expectation and ingratitude?

Many of us have grown up with or developed certain expectations which we attach to Christmas.  Anything less, and we are simply and ingratiatingly dissatisfied.

We need a change of heart, followed by a change of mindset.  Because I can’t say “be grateful” as well as Stephen Bautista has already said it, I leave you with this song.

(Yes, that is The Simple Homemaker’s messy desk and duct-taped chair in the background.  Keepin’ it real…although it is clean now.)To hear more of Stephen Bautista’s music and thoughts, visit his website and follow his Facebook page.

Don't stress this Christmas!





Christ-Centered Christmas – A Book and Fruitcake Review

Christmas Past

As a child growing up, Christmas was the same every year.  We had our Christmas Eve program, dinner buffet at Grandpa’s farm, presents under the tree Christmas morning, cookies for breakfast, church, and back to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Christmas dinner.  The same routine, the same 27 varieties of cookies on my mother’s cookie platter, the same people.  It was predictable, it was tradition, and I loved every minute of it.

Christ-Centered Christmas - Fruitcake

Christmas Present

My man and I have been married for 15 years.  My mathematical prowess tells me that we have therefore been celebrating Christmas together as a family of varying sizes for 15 years.  As a new bride, I rapidly learned that you cannot merely transplant your own family’s traditions, however enjoyable, into your new family.  Consequently, we developed numerous family traditions of our own, some through default and some through a conscientious effort to keep Christ as the focus of our holidays and lives, to keep it simple, and to make valuable memories for our children (and ourselves).

Christ-Centered Christmas

Hal and Melanie Young, whom you may know as the authors of Raising Real Men: Surviving, Training and Appreciating Boys (review coming soon), recently authored an ebook delving into this very topic.  Their book is aptly titled Christ-Centered Christmas: The Ultimate Guide to Celebrating a Christmas Your Family Will Never Forget.

Christ-Centered ChristmasChrist-Centered Christmas shares many of the Young family’s traditions as well as the thoughts behind them.  The authors touch on all aspects of the season, from Advent and decorating, to Epiphany and taking the decorations down, and, of course, everything in between.  Throughout the book they share ways to reduce stress and increase the real joy of the season.  Every part of the Young family’s Christmas season holds traditions that point toward the true meaning of the holiday, and they open their hearts and homes to readers to share those precious moments.

What will you find in Christ-Centered Christmas?

  • history behind some common Christmas traditions—loved this!
  • directions for some homemade decorations
  • treasured family recipes you definitely want to try
  • Advent ideas
  • the true Christmas story and related prophecies
  • the Young family’s caroling traditions and full carols
  • baking organization tips that I will definitely be using this year
  • Christmas Eve traditions, including a menu and recipes
  • recipes for sweets
  • an open and non-judgmental discussion on Santa
  • gift-giving thoughts and ideas
  • Christmas day menu and recipes
  • end-of-season festivities that we will implement this year
  • and more ways to make your Christmas stress-free and Christ-centered

The Youngs don’t merely share their family traditions, but go one step further by showing how you can implement similar traditions in your own home.  They also reveal how you, too, can use all aspects of your Christmas celebration to point toward Christ, encouraging you to give your celebration purpose and everlasting value.

If you have no real traditions and routines at Christmas, you can start with some of the Young Family traditions, menus, recipes, and ideas, and gradually adapt them to your family.  Although I have thoughtfully been implementing traditions of our own for over a decade, I still picked up some great ideas I hope to add to this year’s celebration, not to mention a terrific fruitcake recipe.

Did She Say “Terrific Fruitcake?”

“Mommy, thank you! This is really, really good.  I love it!”

So said my eleven-year-old after eating the fruitcake made from the Young’s recipe in Christ-Centered Christmas.

Technicality alert: My husband, who also loved it, claims it’s not “real” fruitcake, because it wasn’t soaked in liquor and aged for thirty years…which may or may not be a generous paraphrase.  Plus it didn’t make me gag like the last time I had fruitcake. I suppose he’s right, but it’s cake and it has fruit in it.  Cake plus fruit…cakefruit…fruitcake!  All technicalities aside, it’s delicious, so I’m happy!

If you are interested in purchasing Christ-Centered Christmas, the Youngs are offering their new book at an introductory price of $6 this week. Click here to learn more about their book, to read other reader reviews, or to purchase.  Follow the Youngs on Facebook as Raising Real Men and check out their blog for more encouragement.

Buy Christ-Centered Christmas here!

rrmthumbnailTSHM disclaimer…or lack thereof: I am not an affiliate of the Youngs, nor do I receive anything if you purchase from their site.  I believe in their ministry, am very much in agreement with their philosophy, and appreciate their products. They did give me a free copy of Christ-Centered Christmas to review (Thank you!), but that did not influence my opinion.  The fruitcake recipe, on the other hand, did influence my opinion! Did I mention how tasty it is?  Now I’m off to try one of their cookie recipes. 

Brining Turkey – The Secret to a Juicy Bird

My husband Steve makes an amazing turkey.  Juicy, flavorful, beautiful, and with drippings that make the perfect gravy.

The secret is in the brine.

brine [noun]: water saturated or strongly impregnated with salt

Brining turkey can be as simple or complex as you wish it to be.  When we first began brining turkey, we used a somewhat involved recipe from Alton Brown’s Good Eats.  Over time, we realized that our results are just as wonderful with a far simpler version. Sorry, Mr. Brown–you’re smart, I’m simple, so I win. Somehow that made sense before I typed it.

Brining a Turkey via The Simple Homemaker

Print Recipe

Brining Turkey

Ingredients and supplies for brining turkey

  • 5-gallon bucket or other large container with a lid (available at Wal-Mart for $3)
  • turkey
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock (optional)*
  • water to cover
  • ice
  • 1 cup coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (optional)

At the very least, you need ice water, salt, a container, and a bird.

Directions for brining turkey

  1. Combine the salt and sugar in the veggie stock and heat on the stove until everything is dissolved.  Cool and chill.
  2. Place the turkey in the turkey tub…the bucket.
  3. Add the stock and then if necessary, add cold water until it covers the turkey.  Place the lid on the turkey tub.
  4. If you do not have a snow bank to keep the tub in, make room in the refrigerator.  We never have that much room in the frig, so we add ice throughout the day and keep it in the coolest place possible.
  5. Brine for a minimum of six hours.  We like to brine for two days.  Whatever amount of time you can devote to brining will help your turkey “retain water” and make it juicier.
  6. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse, and roast as usual.

* To make your own veggie stock for brining, bring a stockpot of water and veggies to a boil. Use either ends and leftovers you’ve frozen over time, or fresh veggies.  I like carrots, celery, and onion, but use whatever you have on hand.  Simmer for several hours (or as much time as you have).  Strain. Lately, I’ve been making my stocks in my Instant Pot (affiliate link) in half the time. Give me a woo and a hoo!

A note on veggie stock:

If you have guests with food issues, such as allergies, sensitivities, Celiac, or Crohn’s, please don’t use store-bought veggie stock. Many of them have ingredients in them that will make the turkey unsafe for your guest. Just use ice water or go through the ridiculously simple process of making your own stock.

A note on making gravy from the drippings:

I recently read that you may not want to brine your bird, because, while it will make the turkey more flavorful and juicy, you will have to pay attention to how much salt you put in the gravy or it may be too salty. Ahem. DUH!

If you brine your turkey and make gravy from the pan drippings, do not add salt to your gravy without first tasting it. Rinsing the bird before roasting helps reduce the salt in the drippings.

A note on other birds:
I use a simple brine on my roasted chickens as well, containing only water and salt.  My family can always tell when I skip that step.

Print Recipe

Enjoy your juicy turkey, and have a blessed Thanksgiving, remembering to Whom we owe our thanks.

What are your best turkey tips?

Simple Birthday Party Ideas

It’s birthday season at The Simple Home.  We have three birthdays lumped together at the beginning of autumn, another in November, and two more closing out the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, one of those landing on New Year’s Day.

Simple Birthday Party Ideas

It is possible to go absolutely nuts during birthday season.  I have seen what some non-celebrity parents do for their children’s birthdays.  I won’t give you my personal opinion, but my children think those families are nuts.

Every birthday we have is simple, affordable, and stress-free.

Here are some simple birthday party ideas to keep the festivities down to a dull roar while still making the birthday girl or birthday boy (or birthday mom!) feel special.

Simple Birthday Party Ideas

Size of the Guest List

Keep it small!  If you have an overly stimulated two-year-old surrounded by 25 other overly stimulated two-year-olds, you’re asking for it…and chances are you’re gonna get it.  You’ve been warned.

There is nothing wrong with a party for the immediate family only.  If you want to include Grandma and Grandpa and a few cousins, that’s great, but remember that with each person you include, you are adding stress and cost, plus obligating that person to spend money on a gift.

If you have a lot of children, consider throwing one annual birthday bash to which you invite the entire extended family and some friends.  When the real birthdays roll around, stick to just the household and maybe grandparents.

As your guest list grows, so do the number of presents your child will be tossing carelessly on the floor for you to trip over…I mean, the more gifts your child will be receiving. To avoid adding more clutter to your life and obligatory expense to the guests’ lives, include a note in the invitation that says “Your presence is our present; there is no need to bring gifts.” This also helps to not spoil your child, while still making him feel special.

Fun and Affordable Birthday Decorations

Simple Birthday Party Ideas - Decorating with BalloonsBalloons are cheap.  I’m not talking the fancy inflatable shiny character balloons; I mean a bag or two of balloons from a discount store (like Wal-Mart).  Personally, I don’t like balloons, probably because I almost always have someone at the “if there is a way to fit this in my mouth, I will find it” stage.  Therefore, we keep the balloons off the floor by tying them to a string and running the string of balloons across the ceiling a couple times.  It’s even more fun when the children decorate the balloons first to fit their themes.

Crepe paper is also cheap at discount stores.  Decorate the birthday girl’s chair before she wakes up, or write her name on the wall in crepe paper. Simple Birthday Party Decorating Ideas

A white plastic tablecloth sells for a buck or two in the party supply section of—you guessed it—discount stores.  Children can decorate it using permanent markers—for creative children, this is often more fun than the gift opening.

Plain white paper for wrapping gifts can also be decorated. Other great sources of wrapping paper are Sunday funnies, brown paper bags, or rolls of newsprint paper or butcher paper.  All can be decorated, although the funnies are fun as-is. Bows can be tied with yarn, or you can stock up on wrapping ribbon around December 26.  Sewing departments usually sell thin ribbon very cheaply, and it doubles beautifully as hair ribbons for little girls.

Make a birthday banner consisting of all the letters in the child’s name, the letters in “Happy Birthday”,” or pictures from birthdays past.  You could also have siblings or the birthday girl herself make signs to decorate the house.  It will not look like Hallmark, but it will be charming and very, very special.Simple Birthday Party Hats

Decorate a birthday tree.  Laminate pictures from birthdays past and hang them on a small tree or houseplant.  Presents for the special someone can be placed under the tree.

Have all guests decorate their own birthday hats.  Optionally, you could have your own children decorate hats and party favor bags in advance of party day.

Easy Party Games

The decorating is often so much fun that the children do not need any other games.  If they do, however, remember that sometimes the simple, classic games are the best.

For the little ones, duck, duck, goose, bean bag toss, ping pong ball bounce, follow that leader, and other simple games fit the bill.  So does bringing out a bucket of Lincoln logs.  Whatever you do, don’t stress a roomful of 20 toddlers!

Older children might enjoy a scavenger hunt, treasure hunt, or charades.  Pinatas are also fun, but most sold in the store today are the (booooring, totally low-action, why-not-just-hand-out-a-bunch-of-candy) pull-string type.  Those are fine for the littles, but the older children, especially boys, really want to hit something.  So…make your own!

Have your birthday child decorate some poster board for a “pin the tail on the donkey” type of game, but change it up for the theme or your child’s interests.  Pin the petal on the flower, pin the light saber on Luke Skywalker, pin the facial features on the birthday boy (a drawing of the birthday boy, that is)—you get the idea. I know it’s very last decade in most parents’ minds, but it’s simple, affordable, and fun for the children.

Put an address label on each person’s head.  Each label has the name of a kind of animal.  By asking questions of others, each person has to guess what he is throughout the party.  Once you know what you are, remove the sticker. This is also a great mingling activity if your party gets a little large.

Birthday Party Food

Make the birthday boy his favorite meals.  If he requests steak and lobster, you may need to lower his expectations a bit and give him hamburgers and shrimp.  Otherwise, fill the day with his favorite foods.  Do as much as possible ahead of time.

If you have invited a crowd, think of foods that really stretch.  Hamburgers and hotdogs are low-key and go well with a big, inexpensive batch of filling baked beans.  Grill the meats up ahead of time and put them in roaster pans that can easily be reheated in the oven.  The beans can go in the crockpot.

Pizza is obviously the simplest choice for a large group, and a general crowd pleaser.  Supplement with a large lettuce salad and a fruit salad, or anything else that guests on restricted diets may require.Simple Birthday Party Ideas - Ice Cream Ball

Cake and ice cream are always a hit.  Save a lot of money by making your own cake.  You can really stretch out the cake experience by having guests decorate their own cupcakes.

Consider a popcorn bar instead of sweets to keep costs and sugar down.

For a small group, have the ice cream be part of the action by making it right there, either in plastic bags inside other plastic bags filled with salt and ice, in an ice cream maker, or—the ultimate—in an ice cream ball.

If you are making it a “friends” party and want to keep the cost down, hold the festivities from around 2 to 4 p.m. and serve only cake and ice cream.

Please remember that a birthday party does not have to be stressful; nor does it have to be perfect.

If a child wants to help (or independently) decorate the cake or the house, let him!  The smile on his face is far more important than the impression your neighbors or relatives would formulate from seeing the near-perfect cake and home décor you would otherwise have put out.

It is not about perfection—it is about the special person you are celebrating.