I remember at least one of my Christmas gifts from 1970. I was five years old, and my dad and brothers worked for weeks in the shop behind the house building me a barn set complete with a barn lot, red barn with removable top, white rail fence, and store-bought cast iron red tractor, implements and assorted plastic barnyard animals. The little barn and related toys have adorned my house or offices most of my life: a testament to the lasting power of a well-thought-out gift. Thinking about this long-cherished gift prompted me to put together this homestead gift-giving guide full of the best gifts for homesteaders.
With more than five decades of getting and giving, I suppose I’m as much of an authority as anyone on what makes a good Christmas gift. I grew up a poor country kid, but as the story is often told we didn’t realize we were poor because everyone around us was in the same boat. Gifts were never extravagant. But they were always thoughtful, and I was the kind of kid who appreciated and took care of his toys. I have a surprising number of them still in decent condition. My office shelves and walls hold many of them along with other treasures from my simple life.
I’ve found that homesteaders, or anyone who chooses to live in a more rural setting, tend to live with purpose. Buy that, I mean that we have a tendency to make good use of the things we own. We rely less on other people and service providers and more on getting the job done with the knowledge and tools on hand. Homestead.org is a great source of knowledge. If you need to know how to raise chickens, buy land, sharpen a knife, can meat or vegetables, or do other helpful tasks you can usually find an informative article telling you how. That takes care of the knowledge, but a homesteader or new small farmer needs to have a wide assortment of tools and gadgets on hand to do those tasks. Christmas gift-giving is a great opportunity to provide someone you care about with a quality, helpful gadget or gizmo to make their life in the country a bit more enjoyable.
To that end, we’ve pored over the Internet and found some very helpful tools and gadgets to consider for your gift giving this year. To simplify the list, it’s broken down by category. I’ll offer some insight on my personal top couple choices in each category, and a brief explanation of the other items. All are readily available through Amazon or any number of local or online retailers. Here we go… The Homestead Gift-giving Guide!
One of the best gifts I’ve ever received—or purchased for myself—was a cap with earflaps. I’m not aware of any homesteader, or other rural resident who doesn’t end up working outdoors in winter conditions. And while a sock cap might cover the ears, a cap with adjustable ear flaps offers more versatility. I own a few different styles, but my favorite is an insulated buffalo plaid baseball-style cap. Other popular choices are “trapper style” or “bomber style” hats, usually fur-lined with long ear flaps that fasten beneath the chin. The advantage of the baseball-style cap is the added bill which shades the eyes in the daylight and provides a place to fasten a clip-on headlamp or small flashlight with clip for night work. We jokingly refer to mine as “the Elmer Fudd hat”.
As age gains traction on my body, I’m finding myself less and less excited about falling down. As a youth, I welcomed comical slips and falls, especially on ice. But now in my fifties, I cringe when I see a video clip of someone taking a tumble. To that end, a few years ago my wife found and bought me a set of slip-on ice cleats. The pair of cleats consist simply of hardened steel studs embedded in a web of stretchy rubber. Using them is as simple as hooking the toe of the cleat over the toe of your shoe or boot and stretching it to secure the back edge over the heel of the footwear. Some brands have more intricate straps to hold them in place, but even the slip-on pair I own tend to hold pretty tight and definitely offer improved safety on those few icy days we have each year here in the Ozarks where I live.
Other helpful gift ideas in this category might include a disposable razor sharpener to get the most of those already inexpensive blades. Homesteaders tend to be a frugal lot, and the cost of one of these sharpeners is slightly more than two packs of disposable blades and will make the blades you use last much longer. Or how about soaps or other personal care products made with natural ingredients.
And for the guys, I’d also consider a money clip. At the urging of a good friend, I stopped carrying a thick, bulky wallet in my back pocket several years ago in favor of a slim magnetic money clip that holds some cash and just a few necessary cards and identification. Much of the back pain I had experienced for years went away instantly and I’ve been grateful for his helpful suggestion.
The Gift of Preparedness
There is perhaps no more used tool around a country home than a flashlight. Each year at my family’s Christmas gift exchange you can expect to see a dozen or more flashlights of all shapes and sizes being given. From headlamps or clip-on cap lamps to handheld lights ranging from single battery penlights or pocket flashlights to full-bore rechargeable spotlights or 9-volt work lamps, and even up to battery- or fuel-style lanterns, the gift of (night) sight is a great thing to give a homesteader.
Thinking of reasons we might need a flashlight brings me next to the weather radio. Yes, even in today’s digital age with smartphones used like the “remote control of life”, the weather radio is still a great tool to have when living rurally. Whether you’re disconnected by miles or minutes, knowing what’s headed your way when all other sources of communication are down is a gift. Portable and multi-power radios are very affordable and readily available. Consider a model that runs on batteries but has a hand crank backup option. Actual “weather” radios which sound alarms or activate when inclement weather warnings or given are good, but so is a simple AM/FM portable unit that can keep you in touch when the cell towers and Internet providers are out of service.
To round out the category, I can’t leave out the emergency kit. How prepared an individual or family should be is determined by several factors not limited to, but including, how many people are in the group and how far you are located from emergency services. The standard I’ve heard for years for those living in the United States is 3-5 days of food and water on hand, meaning most people can be reached in emergency situations within five days. Until then, you might have to fend for yourself. An emergency rations kit can be built from scratch for much less than the cost of buying a “kit in a bucket”. But if you want to give the gift of preparedness, and potentially the gift of life, to your favorite homesteader(s) consider buying them one of the self-contained emergency preparedness food kits available through many online resources. The kits are sized based on the number of people they need to feed. The items are usually dehydrated or flash dried or frozen and can last for years as long as they are kept sealed. The kit will contain a checklist and instructions for the preparation of the contents.
Best Gifts for the Homesteader’s Home
Now for some less ominous gift-giving options, most homesteaders might already have the basics of day-to-day living on hand. But there are many gift ideas which can enhance living rurally. Here are just a few.
Accordion clothes-drying rack: Having some extra surface area to dry clothes and other items is always handy, especially when you rely on an outdoor clothesline and the weather is uncooperative or your electric or gas-powered dryer is temporarily out of service. We bought our first folding clothes-drying rack a couple of decades ago when our children were young and we put up a backyard swimming pool. It was a great way to air dry towels and swimwear. But we’ve used it many times to dry our regular laundry as well. Ours folds out and sits on the floor, but there are also many models available which mount on a wall and accordion out into the room to hold several items.
Clothesline pulley kit: If the recipient of your gift has an outdoor space suitable for a clothesline, consider giving a clothesline pulley kit. The addition of a pulley system to a clothesline means less walking and moving for the one doing the laundry, and can also overcome issues with unlevel terrain or second-floor laundry rooms. A clothesline on a pulley system can span ditches or steep drops and can be mounted to posts, trees or buildings.
Red cedar hanger discs: One final laundry-related gift idea, this one very inexpensive, is a collection of red cedar hangar discs to add that cedar-lined closet smell and feel to your hanging clothes. The discs look like wooden doughnuts and slip over the hook portion of a clothes hanger. They add the aroma and bug-resisting properties of cedar to any closet. They’re available in sets, but could also be made by the crafty gift-giver.
Sleighbells: This one is a personal favorite for our household. We were given our first set of sleigh bells as a decoration many years ago. The string of round brass bells was mounted on a wide leather strip with a metal ring attached to one end to hang over a doorknob. At first glance, they look similar to the bells which adorned the tack my grandpa used on his horses during the holidays.
For the first few years, we unpacked the sleigh bells and hung them on a doorknob each fall and then removed and packed them away after Christmas. But one year we forgot them while packing away the holiday décor. They remained on the inside knob of the exterior door the entire next year. We quickly found they served as an alarm when the door was opened, especially at night. Living in an old Victorian-style home built in the 1880s, we have five exterior doors and no alarm system. For years now we’ve had a set of sleigh bells on most exterior doors all year round.
Gifts for the Homestead Hearth
Heat helpers: For those who heat with a wood stove, there are several tools and gadgets which can make the process more enjoyable. Consider a small heat-activated fan that sits atop the stove and helps disperse the warm air. The little fans rely on technology way beyond my understanding but have an aluminum base and a tiny thermoelectric motor which translates heat from the stove’s surface into power to turn the fan and further disperse heat into the room. We were gifted one a couple of years ago after setting up our weekend cabin with an antique homestead woodstove. Not only does it help disperse heat through the little cabin, but it’s a great conversation piece among visitors.
As for getting the wood to the stove, we use a canvas firewood carrier: a sling of sorts that holds 6 or 8 pieces of firewood and has handles for easy carry. Other models have a shoulder harness to help reduce back and shoulder strain. And speaking of shoulder strain, lifting firewood can be made easier with a Logox, a popular new product which makes picking up and carrying firewood splits less about the grip and grab and more about the lifting with larger muscle groups and less bending and straining.
Another helpful heating gadget is an indoor/outdoor thermometer set with a wireless outdoor probe that attaches to an external surface. The systems range from $15-20 for a simple indoor/outdoor temperature reading to hundreds of dollars for a small portable weather station which shows wind and rain readings and the forecast.
One last heating gift suggestion would be a cast-iron stovetop steamer or kettle. Utilizing one will add necessary moisture into the air which can be removed by burning an indoor fire. A cast-iron kettle can serve double duty by also heating water for drinking or household tasks. A steamer is more decorative, such as the “hen on the nest” cast iron model which sits on our woodstove. My wife raises chickens, so she was gifted a hen-shaped steamer a few years back. Filled in the evening, the steamer will simmer and put moisture into the air all night long, humidifying our home.
I’m a gadget nut. Really! My wife takes the lead on the cooking in our home, but I’ve always been drawn to kitchen gadgets. She has a green thumb, but I really like gardening gadgets. Here are a few favorites for the garden that we’ve been able to agree on as being beneficial or simply enjoyable over the years.
Tool keepers: Homesteaders have to have many different tools for a variety of tasks. We learned long ago that it helps to “compartmentalize” tools of a specific purpose together for both use and storage in the offseason. One of the best ways to do that with small gardening tools is a canvas garden bucket holder, a gardening stool with storage, or a gardening apron. All of these options provide a great way to keep up with gloves, small trowels, and other digging tools, snips, and seed packages.
Birdhouse or feeder: Birds and bird watching often goes hand-in-hand with gardening. Some gardeners plant things that are beneficial to migratory birds. Others locate birdhouses or feeders in or near the garden to attract specific species of birds that help control harmful insects. Of course, the available bird feeders and houses are endless, but one of my favorites is a feeder made to look like an old red oil lantern. But instead of the lantern having a glass globe, it has a mesh holder for birdseed or suet.
Paper-pot maker: A great gadget for saving money and getting the jump on the planting season is a paper-pot maker. These usually consist of two wooden parts which worth together to form seedling pots out of old newsprint or other discarded paper. You simply wet the paper and form it into the mold, set it aside and let it dry. The set can be of great enjoyment for the gardener stuck in winter and longing for the days of planting and nurturing. He or she can pass the housebound hours of deep winter by making seedling pots to be used as the spring days approach. It’s the equivalent of when the first seed catalogs arrive in the mail well ahead of the planting season. Suddenly, the coming spring seems a little more of a reality.
Bucket opener/hammer: The benefits of this gift can be accomplished otherwise with a good grip, pair of large pliers or screwdriver, and hammer. But a perfect gift for the gardener or any homesteader or farmer is a bucket opener/hammer combo. These cast aluminum tools are as handy as a pocket on a shirt for anyone who is constantly accessing buckets with snap-on lids. One side of the gadget will pry the tabs open on the bucket lid, while the other side drives home the lid for a good seal. And having a dedicated tool handy with your gardening or barn supplies saves time over running around looking for a screwdriver or pliers or hammer.
Gifts for the Homestead Kitchen
As I eluded to earlier, I’m a real fan of kitchen gadgets. This list of suggestions could be an entire series of stories alone. But for the sake of saving space, I’ll keep it to a few favorites.
Cast-iron cookware: Collecting and cooking with cast iron usually falls under two categories: those who do and enjoy it, and those who have yet to discover the joys of cast-iron cooking. Elsewhere in this gift guide, I mentioned that my wife takes the lead on the cooking in our house. But that doesn’t mean I don’t help out, and sometimes even venture out to prepare a meal all by myself. And when I do, you can rest assured I do so using some kind of cast-iron cookware.
I’ve written about cast-iron cooking and related topics for the past two decades. I have a pretty good collection of skillets, stew pots, Dutch ovens, griddles, cornbread pans, trivets, and accessories. Some of the most helpful I’ve found include hot handle holders made of heat-resistant rubber or cloth; non-metallic scrub brushes or pads; plastic scrapers; wooden spoons, lid holders, lid lifters, and trivets. While collecting vintage name-brand cast iron can be big business, there are many companies offering quality and affordable new cast-iron skillets, pans, and ovens. A good starter set of a couple of skillets and a Dutch oven will run about $60-100.
Embossed rolling pin: For those who enjoy baking pies or making cookies, a rolling pin is a must. But why not take the gift of a good rolling pin one step further and consider an embossed pin which adds a decorative flair to the pie crust. Several companies offer decorative pins made from a variety of materials and patterns.
Old-fashioned wooden recipe-box: When I mentioned that I had added this one to the list for this homestead gift-giving guide, the two best cooks I know—my wife and our son—approved whole-heartedly. Some of the most cherished things found in our kitchen cabinets are hand-written recipes from our mothers and grandmothers. If your favorite homesteader has a cooking heritage, then a wooden recipe box could be a great gift. Or how about helping your favorite cook start their own recipe heritage. A package of recipe cards and a nice box to keep them in is a great way to start building your own heritage for future generations. Take time to write those favorite family recipes down on cards by hand. In fact, write several copies. Buy a recipe box for each child or grandchild and put the assortment of recipes in it and give it as a gift. Not only will the meals they provide be welcomed for generations to come, but having that hand-written recipe on a card in a wooden recipe-box handed down from generation to generation will undoubtedly be a cherished possession of any culinary enthusiast.
Junior baking set: This past summer found us welcoming our first grandchild. Although she’s only five months old, I’m already taking her to the kitchen and holding her while we watch her grammy make tasty treats. Obviously, she’s too young to enjoy them yet, but by this time next year, she’ll be discovering her taste buds. And Grammy is already envisioning “Little Britches” sitting on the counter and helping stir mixes, roll dough, and lick bowls and beaters. It won’t be long until she has her own drawer in the kitchen to hold little pots and pans and utensils which are her size. Kids learn by doing and imitating what they see. Buying a child their own junior baking set or individual items is a great way to foster a love of cooking and baking.
Pie/cake carrier: There’s an old joke that says to be a good church lady you have to own a 9X13 casserole dish. The country life often lends itself to preparing and providing dishes for all sorts of occasions, be it church dinners, community gatherings, fundraiser meals, pot lucks, or family get-togethers. Having a decorative pie/cake carrier and transport bag makes providing a dish both practical and enjoyable. These dishes and carrier bags come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and designs.
A Few More Gifts for the Homesteader
I’m going to end this homestead gift-giving guide with a few bonus items which really do not fall under any of the previously-mentioned categories but are great gift ideas for the homesteader in your life nonetheless.
Snacks: Giving snacks is always a great gift idea. But why not take it one step further and give a tin of hard candy, snack mix, peanut or cashew or pecan or coconut brittle, or the old favorite, the fruitcake. These old-fashioned snacks will take the recipient back in time as they enjoy the time-honored treats.
Games: A segment of the younger generation has rediscovered board games. When our children and their spouses recently gathered in for Thanksgiving they spent a portion of their time sitting at the kitchen table playing games. Whether card games or board games, the fact is that the video monitors and gaming systems of yesterday are being replaced with board and card games, both new and old. While the selection is nearly endless, a great game to play with kids who are growing up around livestock is “Life on the Farm”. We bought the board game for our son when he was about 10 years old and spent many an evening enjoying it as a family around the table. And now, nearly 20 years later, he’s a farmer. The company still makes the game today.
Your time: The greatest gift you can give this season is the gift of your time. People, especially children, cherish the time and attention of others. And there’s no greater gift a parent or grandparent, or aunt, uncle, or another elder can give a child than time and attention. Simply put the cellphone down, get off social media, and put away the tablet; schedule and then follow through with spending quality time with the individuals you care for and love. While this is paramount for children, it is also a cherished gift by adults.
Electronic communication devices and “access” are robbing the current generations of much-needed personal attention. There is a definite place, and legitimate uses for, the Internet and technology in today’s world (such as
reading this article and locating and buying some of the items mentioned). But in the end, the real gift comes when you put the technology down for a few hours and sit across the table from another person (or persons) and connect with them on a personal level… whether over a good meal or a game.
Remember me talking about that handmade barn scene I was given as a five-year-old boy? Some of my fondest memories of that gift were of my siblings and parents taking turns to get down on the floor and play “farming” with me in the days and weeks and months following that Christmas morning.
Take time to spend some quality time with those important to you this holiday season and you’ll rediscover that it truly is the gift that keeps on giving.