I'm So Clever

Clever tips for surviving the holidays

Are you using a crock pot to open up oven space. Use crockpot liners (near plastic wrap and bags at the supermarket) so you can cook two different sides at once. Make sure that you coordinate the cooking times. Ingredients may be adding at different times. A bonus is easy cleanup! Joanne Brown, Charlotte
Are you using a crock pot to open up oven space. Use crockpot liners (near plastic wrap and bags at the supermarket) so you can cook two different sides at once. Make sure that you coordinate the cooking times. Ingredients may be adding at different times. A bonus is easy cleanup! Joanne Brown, Charlotte Joanne Brown, Charlotte

When it comes to surviving the holidays, most of us need all the help we can get. So the “You’re so clever” column asked readers to send in their best ideas. And, we made a contest out of it. Here we present the winners, along with other great ideas, and a few favorites from previous years. The prizes – first place: Oneida cookware gift set valued at more than $100; second place: $50 gift card; third place: Three Clever books, which make great stocking stuffers.

1st place: Making the most of family ties

This will be the first Christmas season since my father passed away in May of this year. I decided to make a wreath out of his neckties. I think he kept every tie he ever had because there were ties of every kind of width and shape. I remember him wearing many of these and I think some predated my birth. Rather than just throw them away, I decided to make something special in honor of him.

Sandi Langdon, Charlotte

2nd place: Kitchen shortcuts save the day

Two tips: It was Thanksgiving and I didn’t have a rack to put under my turkey in the roasting pan. My cookie cutters came to my aid and did the job. Make sure the cutting edge is against the pan.

Are you using a crock pot to open up oven space? Use crockpot liners (near plastic wrap and bags at the supermarket) so you can cook two different sides at once. Make sure that you coordinate the cooking times. Ingredients may be added at different times. A bonus is easy cleanup!

Joanne Brown, Charlotte

3rd place: Tape holders make fun sleigh

With plastic packaging tape holders, you can make a Santa sleigh with reindeer. Just add some cotton for snow, a Santa figurine, and a bag of presents, and you have a nice Christmas centerpiece.

Martin Settle, Charlotte

Safe storage for delicate ornaments

I have lots of Christmas ornaments that are fragile and did not have a good way to store them. I purchased a number of athletic sock packages (older kids sizes) and store my ornaments in them. The extra padding keeps them from breaking and insulates them well for storing.

And for those ornaments that are a little more delicate, I purchased a large CD wallet and slip each ornament in a protective sleeve. The whole wallet zips up and keeps the ornaments from slipping out of the sleeves and getting bent or broken.

Kim Martin, Pineville

Another ornament storage option

If you buy apples at Costco or Sam’s Club, save the plastic container they come in to store your Christmas ornaments! Great way to recycle the container and protect your decorations.

Patty Rudisill, Charlotte

Oatmeal containers help with wrapping paper

I use large, cylindrical oatmeal containers to keep rolls of wrapping paper upright in the closet corners.

Leigh Jacobson, Matthews

Pillowcases to the rescue

I had several large, awkwardly shaped presents to wrap last year and no suitable boxes. I remembered I had several pillowcases with snow scenes or otherwise appropriate Christmas designs on them (think flannel sheets). I tied them off with a bright ribbon and gift tags. Just collect them after everyone has opened the gifts – no trash generated! We had a laugh when Misti discovered his cat cousin’s present under the tree, which is a new soft cat bed stuffed into one of the pillowcases!

Debra Efird, Harrisburg

A little tape does the trick

I was wrapping presents the other day and when I was ready to place the “To-From” tags on my gift, I could not remove the backing from the tag. After trying for a minute or two I got the idea to try a little piece of tape to the corner part of the back of the tag. Amazing – the back came right off!

Bettie Smith, Davidson

Simple step helps with hanging decorations

To keep from damaging walls, doors and other moldings, use Frog Tape brand tape that is used for painting walls, trim, etc., to attach garland and other decorations to mantels, doors, etc., without compromising the paint on the wall. Also, it is a festive color GREEN!

Jeannie LeGate, Huntersville

Pizza ‘dough’ makes a great present

A holiday tradition for more than 20 years – one gift to grandchildren from Grandma is always handmade with story or silly poem attached. It can be anything – an ornament, a box of shells collected from the beach, even a message in a bottle. Now that was a great year. I wrote a love letter to each one and put it in a bottle. But, last year was the best ever, I’ve been told: “money” pizzas.

Most pizza places will give you the boxes. From there, draw a circle inside for the size you want your pizza to be. Using two-sided tape is all you need to hold the money in place – you’ll need dollar bills and some change. (The change represents the toppings.) Add a bow in the middle of pizza, and on inside top of box, add your poem. Here is silly poem I wrote:

I’m a sucker for pizza/As you probably know.

I’ll save every dollar/And to CiCi’s I’ll go.

To celebrate delicious/I’ve added a bow,

Wanting to share/My “pizza dough.”

A napkin was handed to each grandchild when the pizzas were handed out. My daughter-in-law told them she did not want to see pizza on her carpets. You should have heard the roar and screams when the pizzas were opened. Now, that’s entertainment! The fun continued as the poem was read aloud together by the grandchildren, and their parents got to roar. I’m not sure who enjoys this tradition more – the grands or my children.

Kay Chumley, Pineville

How to ‘baby’ your Christmas tree

To keep my 1-year-old toddler safe, but wanting to have a fully decorated tree, I decided to take the my toddler out of the playpen and put the tree in the playpen. It took away all the worry about broken ornaments or a tree tipping over. I screwed the holder to the center of a 2-by-3 piece of plywood that I had covered with decorative contact paper. Then I set that inside the playpen. I even keep the holder screwed to the board when storing, so that every year, all I need to do is set the tree in the holder and start decorating. The tree can be situated anywhere and still remain upright. The board can be used to anchor tracks for a small train, or provide a defined space for putting gifts under the tree.

Sue Hackendorf, Davidson

Christmas pumpkins? Why not?

Each fall we purchase several pumpkins to place on the front steps of our home. (They last a really long time if they are not carved). Once the season changes and it is time for holiday decorations, they are spray painted a different color to make large ornaments to display on the front porch steps. The spray paint will make them last even longer! Get creative! It is a great activity if you have kids too.

Lisa LeBlanc, Fort Mill

Here are a few of our favorite tips that we’ve run before:

Recycle your ribbon

For the past 15 years I have never had to buy ribbons or gift tags for my presents. To make old ribbons look brand-new again all it takes is a quick run through a curling or flat iron; it takes out all the kinks to make brand-new bows! I also cut out pictures from old cards, punch a hole and write the giver and receiver on the back. Then I take my “new” ribbon and attach it to the gift. Saves me a ton of money and each present looks unique!

Tiffany Davidson, Huntersville

Shredded Observer makes great packing

With Christmas packaging just around the corner, purchasing packaging material can get expensive. Instead of purchasing bubble wrap, I run my old copies of the Observer through my document shredder and use this as my packaging. I then place the items in the postal service flat-rate boxes. Cheapest way I know to send Christmas gifts.

Jim Collura, Monroe

Store receipts in one place

I use a large manila envelope to save all Christmas receipts. I label the outside of the envelope and make sure every receipt is placed in it when I come home from each shopping trip. Be sure to request a gift receipt when you check out. Without the receipt you are given the marked-down price after Christmas.

Rebecca Maupin, Matthews

Guest book of memories

Having our guests sign an old-fashioned guest book is one of the simplest ways to record memories you make while entertaining. I have kept one for more than 20 years! And I love to browse through its pages, read what my guests have written and reminisce about the wonderful times that were shared at my house.

Sheila Smith, Charlotte

Send your clever tip, address and phone to clever@charlotteobserver.com, Observer, P.O Box 30308, Charlotte, NC 28230-0308. Each week the best idea wins an “I’m So Clever” book.