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  Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

Being Santa

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Are you feeling the financial pinch of Christmas already and it's not even Thanksgiving yet? Are you grousing about having to spend your hard-earned cash on adults as well as on children? Are you thinking that Ebenezer Scrooge was absolutely right when he grumbled, "Bah, Humbug!" and are you considering telling your relatives and friends that Christmas will be cancelled this year?

Before you do anything so radical, consider something different, less expensive, and in which you can indulge all year long.

Check out every garage and yard sale in your neighborhood and pick up anything good or salvageable for both kids and adults. If there's a small piece of furniture that just needs a coat of varnish or a bright paint job, either do that yourself or get your husband to do it as his contribution to the holiday spirit. There are almost always used toys at garage and yard sales that can be refurbished, sometimes by merely throwing them into your dryer's fluff cycle.

A paint touch-up can do wonders on nearly everything that's made of wood or metal, and a few stitches can renew the expression on the face of a cloth doll.

Woven baskets are frequent items at these sales, and make excellent packaging for inexpensive gifts, or as a gift themselves, brightly painted, or decorated with ribbons and sprinkled with sparkles.

At each sale, pick up a bunch of old magazines and cut out photos of full-length female models, paste them onto cardboard using a bent straw or popsicle stick as a stand and give to kids who are fashion-conscious though at a pre-Barbie age. If you're artistic, you can trace the models' outlines and create paper clothes with tags that fit over the models' shoulders.

In these same magazines, you can cut out photographs of big items, like cars and houses, and enclose them in your Christmas card with a note that, if you were Donald Trump, this is what you'd buy them. You can make the Christmas cards yourself using magazine cutouts of Santa, or pine trees, or poinsettias. Better yet, use the front of the Christmas cards you received last year.

Unless you want Great Aunt Gassy to get a toy, be sure that you label each gift with the name of the intended recipient for later wrapping. Gifts can be wrapped in newspapers either plain or spray painted. Or plain brown bags you've decorated with holiday glitter.

Take recycling to its limit with the most popular present for a child up to 10 years of age, and it's absolutely free -- a huge cardboard box, the kind refrigerators, washers, dryers, and giant televisions come in. No store-bought gift in my experience has ever made a bigger hit with kids than this. And it's fun to cut out doorways and windows and make a house for them which they can decorate themselves in any way they see fit. It will become their "private" lair, a place to get away from it all. Just talk to a salesperson at the appliance store and they'll be happy to direct you to where their unused big boxes are.

You might also check out your local Goodwill store. Some of them carry last year's, still-in-the-box, never-been-used computers right from the factory, at amazingly inexpensive prices. Corporations which manufacture electronics often donate overstock to charities for a tax write-off. These and Salvation Army stores are filled with wonders that need only tender, loving care to make them good as new again.

If you really want to feel good playing Santa, pay the toll for the car in back of yours, or the tickets for the young couple on line behind you at the movies, or the burger of a kid at McDonald's.

If you simply have no money at all, remember that the best gift is yourself. Consider how wonderful it would be to give someone five non-consecutive nights of babysitting, or housesitting for a family on vacation feeding their pets and watering their plants, or a meal-of-the-month certificate promising you'll deliver a home-cooked dinner to a friend.

Now you know the secret of Santa's smile -- there's no balance on his January credit card statement.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" >
November 10 , 2006 column
Email: maggie@maggievanostrand.com
 
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