Home(made) for the holidays

Guest blog by Dana Visse

Ah...the holidays. A time of great hope and intense anticipation for what we can do, experience, give, and enjoy. And yet, my ideas of what will happen each holiday season compared to what does happen; or what I can do and what I end up doing are usually another sign of my optimistic, yet unrealistic self. We really can drive ourselves crazy trying to compete with our own images of what holiday gift giving, decorating, event attending, hosting, and so on...should look like.

In striving toward whatever that holiday vision might be, it’s easy to lose the magic. After episodes of grand imaginations, I try to remember to focus on what brings the greatest joy for me. Like at Thanksgiving, when I emphasize expressions of gratitude, being with those I care about, and sharing with others, the holidays feel real and meaningful again. When I give to others, whether a personal or meaningful gift, or time in service to others, or when I make something edible, useful, or thoughtful—the holidays come alive again.  

Since I can remember, many of the gifts that have meant the most to me have been both homemade and heartfelt—the photobook my mom compiled of Sammy’s first year when I couldn’t manage laundry much less documentation...The crocheted shawl my mother-in-law made me because she knows I get cold working at my desk that I wear...when I get cold at my desk...The history book my dad wrote and bound about our family cabin...The poem book my husband wooed me with long ago...I can even think back to the matching outfits my grandmother sewed for my cherished Snoopy Doll complete with tiny polka-dotted purse, dress, and visor. The time she spent! And all those yummy jams, chocolate-covered orange rinds, and homemade treats friends and neighbors bring by.

Cherished possessions—photo books made by family members. Thank you for helping me document my life!

Cherished possessions—photo books made by family members. Thank you for helping me document my life!

And then there’s the gifts that I have given that have meant the most to me—mostly handmade. Every winter night, my kids heat up the lavender flax pillows I made to warm up their beds and bodies before sleep. So simple but beloved. And filling friend’s glasses at dinner with wine from grapes I pick, press, and filter.

I enjoy how at the holidays we can demonstrate to ourselves and our families what we value. For me, I value living simply and lightly. Homemade fits right in. I LOVE making gifts whether flannel pajamas for my boys (this year, shh!) or homemade pinot noir (every year) or attempting something completely new and uncharted. In years past, I’ve made sugar scrubs with essential oils, hand-dipped candles, pumpkin butter with a premeasured bread mix, tiered mason jar hot cocoa, mustard in baby food jars (do not recommend), and so on, all the way back to the fabric-lined basket I hot glued my grandmother knowing she would at least appreciate the effort—and she did. It held her personal mementos.

Tiered hot cocoa mix and bean soup are easy gifts to assemble with kid's help and look pretty.

Tiered hot cocoa mix and bean soup are easy gifts to assemble with kid's help and look pretty.

Every year I consider new projects... lemon salt, rosemary sachets from the school garden for teachers and staff. I enjoy the whole process from the gathering of ideas—should I make lemon-infused olive oil or lemon salt?—to the weighing of costs, materials, and time. What is reasonable; what’s unrealistic? For example, it’s probably not a good year to start a photo book in December for the grandparents! I like to consider what I have on hand (fabrics, containers, garden ingredients, summer-canned food I can build upon, etc.). And finally, I love thinking about the final presentation.  

Too often I scramble to wrap gifts at literally the last minute—like in the back room seconds before unveiling. Why spend all that time making something special just to rush it’s presentation?

Wrapped, if not days before, at least a few hours before giving. A slight improvement!

Wrapped, if not days before, at least a few hours before giving. A slight improvement!

To thwart my tendency towards procrastination, I found inspiration in Deb Glanz’s tutorials. Deb’s gift bag tutorials show how to use old magazines, grocery bags, and other paper to make your own gift bags. Way cool. Maybe some rainy day I will even get my kids to help me make a few ahead of time.

 

These images give me hope, ideas, and a sense of presentation purpose. I can even use the spent ribbon, boxes, and pretty paper I collect every post-holiday clean up. I rarely buy new wrapping supplies (besides washi tape, a recent fetish) because I find that old maps, kid’s artwork, grocery bags, and recycled gift wrap combined present any gift beautifully, thoughtfully, and environmentally. These tutorials show how.

So before you suffer mall madness or exhaust yourself trying to meet whatever your own unrealistic expectations are, consider adding in a little something homemade. And see if that brings any new enjoyment for you. Please report back and pass it on.

What homemade holiday ideas have you planned or remember fondly from holidays past?