Mailing Packages to Overseas Service Personnel
Shipping Large Items
My husband is from the UK and we have a number of relatives that we send Christmas presents to overseas. Every year we are left with the dilemma of finding nice presents that are lightweight, not oversized, and not overly fragile or expensive. We're starting to run out of ideas. Any suggestions? I'd like to start thinking about this now so we are not left scrambling at the last minute to meet deadlines to mail things in time for the holidays. Ideas for handcrafted items would be particularly welcome.
Thanks for any suggestions you can provide!
Kathy in Boston, MA
Think Polar Fleece
This fabric is 60" wide, does not ravel, cuts and sews easily. Make throws for each person to reflect their interest. Hundreds of prints are available this year. If you have a Joann's Fabric store nearby, you will be overwhelmed with the choice. You don't even have to sew it if that's a problem. Trim the salvage and cut a fringe around it 3 or 4 inches long. Knots can be tied in each fringe. If you need instructions, go to hancockfabrics.com. Scarves can be made the same way using 1/4 to 1/3 yard with the ends fringed. If the fringe is pulled, it will curl.
Instead of Shipping Gifts Overseas, Shop UK-Based Stores
When I lived in the UK, I started shopping online to save shipping time and cost. If your recipients are in the UK, check out the online sites of various UK-based stores. The prices will be listed in Pounds, but you can pay with a credit card, and the price will automatically be converted into dollars on your credit card bill (multiply the Pounds price by around 1.65 to figure out the dollar price).
amazon.co.uk has the usual assortment of books, music, electronics, etc. Also, for very, very last-minute shopping, you can consider an online gift certificate. Many online shops offer this.
Here's two ideas that have worked well for me.
I hand-stamped rubber stamp art on calendars (the two-year planner that is the size of a checkbook) with plastic covers and my family loved them. I wrote in anniversaries, birthdays and special events that we all had in common. I got the planners and plastic covers online in bulk for about $1-$2 each. I have already had several relatives request that I do them again this year. At our local Big Lots store, I just found the same two-year planners in plastic covers for less than a buck each! The covers are unappealing, but I will stamp new, pretty, personalized covers and write in the dates (I am also stamping a little heart on anniversary days, candles on birthdays, etc.).
I give my mother a stack of hand-made greeting cards. She loves giving out the hand-stamped art and appreciates that I made them all for her. It saves her a trip to the store and the cost of the cards. They package nicely in a bundle and ship well, also. Each time her birthday, Mother's Day, Christmas, etc. rolls around, I give her cards that she is likely to need for the next few months. When I first gave her the cards, I also gave her a card organizer made out of two pocket folders that are so cheap at back-to-school time. Now she can re-fill the card organizer with the cards I give her and always have a card for any occasion.
A Labor of Love, Not Money
For a thoughtful, yet lightweight and durable present, send a cross-stitch framing a cute photo of your children or your family. This is perfect because it is largely a labor of love rather than money. Also, since visiting is more difficult with overseas travel, your relatives will also appreciate seeing the changes in your family.
You can purchase a book of patterns, material and thread very inexpensively. The thread can be purchased at 6 for $1 when on sale, and you can create your own drawings to frame the picture (or look online). Once you've completed the pattern, cut a hole in a piece of cardboard in the picture shape your desire. Place the fabric over the cardboard and cut a smaller hole in the center of your pattern with cuts radiating outwards stopping at the edge of cardboard's hole. Carefully glue the pattern to the cardboard (place some stuffing in between the two layers to make them "puff" out attractively), folding the flaps down through the hole to glue them to the other side. Glue a blank piece of material or a coordinating fabric to a second piece of cardboard, and then glue them together, allowing space for the picture to slip into. Finally, add another piece of cardboard to make the frame stand up (wrapped in fabric or not as you prefer).
If you make several frames of the same pattern, they will be very quick to make. Or you can vary it up by interests of the individuals. Buy your thread on sale and store it in small Ziploc bags (found at a craft store) on a metal ring, writing the number of the thread on each bag. This way, you can easily create a large collection for spur of the moment projects and the thread is protected from tangles and mix-ups.
From the Kitchen…
In the past, I have given Bouguet Garni as Christmas presents. I order the spice mix called Bouquet Garni from Penzey's, cut squares of fine cheesecloth in 4-5 inch squares, add a heaping tablespoon of spices, and tie shut with baby rick rack or kitchen twine (baby rick rack looks prettier). I usually package in a pretty bottle, but your reader could substitute other light weight packaging (small plastic cup). Add a few recipes for soups or stews using the Bouguet Garni and you have a nice inexpensive gift.
Great Lightweight Presents for Overseas Gifts
Picture This: Create a collage of recent pictures of your family, glue it to foam board panel, and trim. Wrap it between sheets of stiff cardboard to ship.
Words of Wisdom: Buy a composition book or blank journal. Create a scrapbook of handwritten sayings, pasted-in articles or pictures, sketches, etc. on a topic of interest to the recipient. Possible topics include Grandpa's stories, local articles on your brother's industry, a collection of your family's best recipes, etc.
Making Connections: Give a long-distance phone card, stationary, stamps, or an email account. You can also create "gift certificates" for staying at your place or your assistance with expenses to visit you. Another idea is a set of form letters or postcards. These can either be gag gifts, such as form letters for someone who hates to write, or serious "appointment cards" to request calls, letters, or visits from you at particular times.
Kay from Ohio
Put Your Skills to Work
Hand-hemmed silk scarves are lovely, and you can make wonderful designs by dying them yourself. See sewing and craft magazines and books for batik methods. Knit or crochet handsome winter slippers, socks, mittens, hats, scarves, or vests. Study calligraphy and create small keepsakes from favorite poems, Bible verses, quotations or sayings. Even if you are a beginner, you can create very nice things by using pens and heavy paper. Arrange for a quality family photograph and send prints in lightweight cardboard mattes. Record a favorite book on a CD for a special child. Record your conversation and create a chatty tape or CD about you and your family and the area where you live. I grew up far away from family and we often received Christmas gifts in July or August (quite late!), but they were fun then too. We cherished the personalized gifts as connections with our relatives. Thirty years later, I am still using a silk scarf with a picture on it of a park near my aunt's home.
Visit the UK Tourism Websites
I would suggest a gift card for books at a bookstore. Barnes & Noble has stores in the UK and Waterstone's is also a big chain. Look for the website by including UK in the search. I also suggest museum memberships or tickets to special museum exhibits. Often you can purchase special packages or guest packages from UK tourism websites. Another idea is a subscription to Time Out, a London magazine with all the entertainment news and information. Most people in London pick them on the newsstand. It might be nice to get a subscription.
Give Nature's Best
Flower seeds and flower bulbs make great gifts. You will be remembered when the flowers bloom. Compare rates to see if it is cheaper to have them sent from Holland instead.
Just Picture This!
A couple of years ago, we made a photo calendar with photos of our children and other family members. This calendar was a Christmas gift to several different families, who got to see us at various events.
If you have a digital photo, you can easily make one of these on your own computer, or scan photos. We also added notations of birthdays and anniversaries.
Fabric Crafts are the Best
In my experience, the best gifts for mailing are fabric crafts. They usually weigh very little and are pretty durable. One of my favorites is mini-Christmas stocking ornaments. They can be made with very small amounts of fabric and trim, and can be filled with small candies or other tokens. Don't worry if you're not an accomplished seamstress. You only need to be able to make a (somewhat) straight stitch, and you can even do these by hand if you don't have a machine.
Start by finding a small stocking or printing one from your computer. Make a pattern by drawing around the stocking, leaving a 1/4-inch seam allowance around the edges and 1/2 inch at the top. Use your pattern to cut out two pieces of fabric per stocking (cotton and lightweight denim work best). Turn under each top edge 1/4 inch, then roll under another 1/4 inch. Stitch across each top to create a neat hem.
To assemble stockings, start with one piece good-side-up. Lay small strips of flat lace, ribbon, rick-rack, and/or other trim across the top to create a nice "cuff" (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from top hem). Top with a second stocking piece, good-side-down, matching edges. Pin together, securing both stocking pieces and sandwiching the trims inside. Stitch 1/4 inch from edge all the way around the stocking except across the top. Clip curves and turn inside out. You should now have a cute stocking with trim sewn into its seams. Simply use craft glue or hot glue to secure a small ribbon loop for hanging inside the "back" corner of the stocking. Your stocking is now a beautiful ornament on its own, or can be filled with whatever you like. One nice idea is the old-fashioned hard candy sticks that look like peppermint but come in all sorts of colors and flavors. Adults will love the ornaments, and kids will love the candies. Group together 4 or 6 of the ornaments into a set for a nicer gift.
If you don't sew at all, consider some of the no-sew pillow ideas that are available on the net (start at diynet.com for ideas). They can be done fairly inexpensively (with sale fabrics), and will travel without risk of damage. Choose a year-round or holiday fabric according to the recipient's tastes, and bundle together two or more for a set if you wish.
Finally, fleece throws can make nice gifts. Look for good prices on fleece fabric; select two coordinating colors/designs or stick to just one. You'll need two pieces of fleece per throw, both cut to the same size. Each should be whatever size you want the finished product to be plus about 10 inches; 56 to 58 inches square is recommended. Lay pieces of fleece with wrong sides together (if there IS a "wrong" side), matching edges. Cut a 5" square from each of the 4 corners and remove. Then cut 1-inch-wide strips along each edge, cutting 5 inches in to make a fringe. Overhand knot each pair of fringe strips (front and back makes a pair) all the way around to hold back and front pieces in place. Voila! You now have a throw with knotted fringe edge!
Pick Overseas Gifts That Create Christmas Memories
I have a similar problem with having to send all of my family's gifts across the US. I have actually started a tradition with several of them by sending Christmas ornaments. Each ornament has the year on it and you can either make them or buy them. The ornaments are small, easy to ship and memorable. It will become a special tradition that will be anticipated each year. I know I always love opening my boxes of Christmas memories!
Start a Scrapbook
Start a scrapbook and each year mail them new pages with recent pictures that you have taken throughout the year. I do this with both of my parents and they love it! It's lightweight and something that they will cherish forever!
Try This Great Smelling Idea!
Make dried herb and flower pillows to put in dressers or vehicles. They smell great for a long time, and they don't weigh much.
Contribute to a Favorite Charity
I personally think the best gift to give is a contribution to a favorite charity in the name of the person you want to honor. Everyone benefits!
Sandy in Michigan
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