End Shopping Madness With Alternative Gift Ideas

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Get on Highway 87. The landfill's about 10 miles north of Payson. You can't see the mountains of trash from the turnoff. A dirt road takes you about a half mile to the dump. Get out of the car. The swampy smells of rotting food and baby diapers rise up from the multicolored plastic bags of trash glistening in the sun. There's a battered old mattress torn in half while old tires stick out of the mess like a shark fin cuts through water.

This is the Buckhead Mesa Landfill, and this is where your Christmas garbage ends up. In fact, according to landfill operations supervisor Wallace Pottle, yuletide garbage dumping begins before Christmas even starts. Pottle said people clean out their old decorations to make way for new items.

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Six-year-old Lacey Standifird is getting ready for a Christmas with lots of special, handmade touches. The fun of homemade Christmas gifts is something everyone in the family can enjoy, not just the youngsters.

"They'll throw out the old whatever away," said Pottle. "We get a tremendous amount of Christmas wrapping. You definitely know Christmas has been here."

‘Tis the season of overflowing trash cans and dumps. Figures from the Partners for Environmental Progress report that 25 percent more garbage is generated between Thanksgiving and Christmas than any other comparable period.

Not to mention, each year holiday shopping seems increasingly difficult and expensive. This Christmas, put an end to the shopping frenzy. The most meaningful gifts don't come from the mall so stop fighting the crowds, close your checkbooks and dust off your tools.

Nothing is more thoughtful -- or affordable -- than a homemade gift. Barbara Wilembrecht, co-owner of Paper and Metal Scrappers, said there's still plenty of time to make your own presents. "You can make several presents in a day," said Wilembrecht. "You can make meaningful gifts with limited amounts of time and money."

Paper and Metal Scrappers sells prepackaged, do-it-yourself kits from $3 to $11. These kits provide the basic materials to create handmade journals, CD covers, calendars and picture frames.

Down the street at The Quilter's Outpost, owner Barbara Wolf said easy-to-make ragdoll quilts are a great for everyone on your list. All of Wolf's employees create their own Christmas gifts. This year, Wolf is making handmade travel pillows for her family.

"I feel like I'm giving a part of me," said Wolf. "It's always nice to see their faces light up with the things you make."

In fact, most of the ingredients you'll need for quick and easy homemade holiday projects are already in your kitchen cabinets and junk drawers.

No Sew T-shirt Pillows

Your husband refuses to trash his "I'm with stupid" T-shirt, even though it's 30 years old and clings to his belly. Turn those great memories into stylish throw pillows without ever threading a needle.

What you'll need:

T-shirt

Fabric

batting or old pillow stuffing

iron-on hem adhesive

fusible interface (optional)

fabric paint (optional)

Lay the T-shirt on a flat surface. If it's really wrinkled, throw it in the dryer for a few minutes and iron. Mark off the area you'll want to cut with masking tape. Be sure to leave at least a half inch for the seam. Cut around masking tape. This is the front panel. For the back of the pillow, use another type of fabric: an old dress shirt with a funky pattern, drapes, sheets or buy something from the thrift store. Use the front panel as a template for the fabric. Mask off and cut. Both panels should be the same size. Now iron the panels.

You can use fusible interface (available at Wal-Mart for under $2 yard) to stabilize the T-shirt material. Although fusible interface makes material look better and easier to work with, it's not necessary. Place the panels together like you would two slices of bread for a sandwich. The printed or public sides of the material should be facing inward. Remember, you'll be attaching to the two panels together, and then turning the piece inside out. Starting at the top, apply the hem adhesive. Hem adhesive costs around $1.50 at Wal-Mart. Place the adhesive between the two pieces of material flush with the edges. Iron according to manufacturer's recommendations. Make sure the hem adhesive has created a strong bond before continuing on to the left and right sides of the pillow. At the bottom leave a 6-inch opening in the middle for stuffing. Gently turn the pillow inside out through the opening in the bottom. Now stuff the pillow. You can use material from an old pillow or buy new batting, under $4 at Wal-Mart. Once the pillow is stuffed to your liking, apply hem adhesive to the opening and iron shut. Use fabric paint to personalize.

Total time = 35 minutes

Estimated cost = $5

Potato Stamp Stationery

Initialed items are all the rage this holiday season, and nothing beats handmade personal stationery.

What you'll need:

Russet potato

blank note cards

craft paint

Cut the potato lengthwise. Using a ballpoint pen or other sharp, but easy-to-hold object, lightly carve the shape into the potato's white flesh. Remember, to cut the shape or letter backwards. Next, take a paring or other small knife, and carve out the white flesh around the object. Blot the finished stamp on a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Pour a small amount of paint on a paper plate, dip stamp in paint and blot excess on paper towel. You may want to make a few test stamps before embellishing the card. Spruce up stationery by adding collages, glitter or other accessories. Wal-Mart sells packs of note cards for under $2.

Total time = 10 minutes

Estimated cost = $3

Oil-infused bath soak

Soak away holiday stress with homemade bath salts.

What you'll need:

Epsom salts

Light extra virgin olive oil

coffee grounds

coffee filter

cinnamon

Total time = 15 minutes

Estimated cost = $5

For every two cups of Epsom salts use 1/4 cup olive oil; 2 tablespoons cinnamon and 2 tablespoons coffee. On low heat, combine olive oil, cinnamon and coffee. Warm oil mixture for 10 minutes, stirring often. Strain oil mixture through a coffee filter into a large bowl, being careful not to burn yourself. Let oil cool to room temperature, pour in Epsom salts and mix with wooden spoon. Give bath salts in mason, baby food jars or any other glass containers. Decorate accordingly.

For affordable gift wrapping ideas, visit thrift shops. They have tons of cool stuff for dirt cheap. Fallen mistletoe or pine branches also make unique wrapping decorations. For more homemade gift ideas, visit www.craftster.org.

Americans are up to their ears in junk. This year don't spend money buying stuff people don't need. Rather, give a donation on someone's behalf. In a community like Payson where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 11 percent of residents are living below the poverty line, a donation can really help someone you know out of a bind.

"Donations are absolutely a great idea," said Doug Kreie, RTA Hospice and Palliative Care's board president. "When you give a gift in someone's memory, you're helping others receive the quality of care they deserve."

"We have a lot of people who give donations for presents," added Janet Ostrom of the Payson Humane Society.

Most charities provide a certificate or some kind of acknowledgement that a donation was made. For instance, Pat Helmick said that the Friends of Payson Library display donors' names who give $50 or more. For a complete listing of local organizations, check out the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce members' page at www.rimcountrychamber.com or for a comprehensive collection of charities, visit www.charitynavigator. org.

Arizona Department of Transportation's Adopt-a-Highway program could be the beginning of a new family tradition. "If a family wants to do community involvement," said Davina Terry, ADOT administrative assistant. "They're really popular." Davina said acquiring a mile of Arizona highway is easy and free. Contact ADOT to fill out the paperwork. ADOT assigns the strip of road and provides the sign. The only requirement is twice a year, the donor must pick up trash along their assigned roadway.

Other gift ideas include having someone's house cleaned, paying for an oil change or tune-up, footing the bill for a class, providing a trip or cruise, and putting money in an IRA or other investment fund. Also consider handing down family heirlooms as an alternative to traditional gift-giving. To cut down on paper waste, consider sending holiday e-mails instead of Christmas cards. For more ideas visit www.use-less-stuff.com, www.earth911.org or call the Environmental Protection Agency's information hotline at (866) EPA-WEST.

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