Christmas is difficult this year because I have several chronic health issues. I want to participate in the great gift exchange, but I can’t wander through malls or stores. Online shopping is convenient, but disabilities limit my income, as well as my energy levels.
This year, I started planning early, so I could use those rare “good” days to produce a few gifts. I have to walk a bit each day, and when I do, I gather pine cones — especially the big ones. I’ve filled several grocery bags with pine cones dropped near the road or in parks. They make excellent kindling for friends with wood heat, and nice decorative touches for others who enjoy a woodsy look in their house.
With only a little more effort, I am collecting Christmas greenery. People with artificial trees often miss the smells of Christmas, and I can pick up fallen twigs and small branches on my walks. Opening a box of evergreen clippings brings good smells into the homes of friends and family members.
My efforts are not limited to immediate opportunities, though. During the long-ago summer, I picked blueberries and blackberries, a few at a time. Now, when I have a better afternoon than usual, I pull some berries out of the freezer and make jam. Everyone loves homemade jam, and I have managed enough batches, one by one, to provide jars for my nearest and dearest.
In addition to jam, I’ve been making pancake syrup. A jar of homemade blueberry or blackberry syrup makes a special treat for those Saturday morning breakfasts — and in a pinch, I’ve made it from store-bought (100 percent) juice. All I do is mix equal parts of juice or fruit and sugar, and boil it for a few minutes to let it thicken. I include a note saying it’s fresh and should be refrigerated and used quickly.
There are other things I can do in the kitchen, too. My family has always loved a barbecue sauce I make. It’s really nothing special, but my children love it, and I love making it for them. A few pints lets them know I’m thinking of them. For other families, jars of Mom’s spaghetti sauce, or pre-measured dry ingredients for favorite cakes or cookies could make appealing gifts.
I have an old bread mixer, and whenever I am up to it, I throw together the ingredients for basic bread, occasionally adding multi-grain cereals, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries or other surprises. Then I let the mixer do its work while I take a (short!) nap. It’s been years since I’ve been able to knead dough by hand, but I can manage it this way. I bake the loaves and freeze them. Even after freezing, the bread is still homemade, and I’ve never found a bakery that could duplicate homemade bread.
Because I have relatives who avoid sugar and carbohydrates, I like to make some non-sweet treats. My favorite is beef jerky. I buy beef roasts on sale, ask the butcher to slice them into 1/4-inch slices, then marinate two or three pounds, using one of the many recipes found online. I have a food dehydrator I use, but an oven set at 200 or lower will work. Since beef jerky is expensive, it makes a nice gift — and when people act impressed, I don’t tell them how easy it is to make.
I couldn’t buy many gifts this year. I was able to make even fewer. Some of the things I’ve done might not be possible for people with more severe disabilities than mine. What I have learned, though, is that it isn’t the cost of a gift that matters. It’s the thought that goes into it. If I didn’t have access to pine cones, or greenery, or berries, I would have had to find something else — an enlarged photo, a batch of hummingbird food, or a basket of warm biscuits — that didn’t take too much energy or money. I would have found some small gifts to offer, because for me, the holidays are all about showing people that I love them and think about them.