Here come the holidays, and with them the pressure of presents. The instinct to give is noble, but the question of what to give can paralyze. So can lack of time, funds or imagination.
Simple, homemade gifts from the heart can put genuine spirit back into crazed consumer holidays. When you make gifts, you'll spend less time at overcrowded malls and enjoy more time at home with your loved ones during the holidays.
You don't need Martha Stewart's DNA to make the following five affordable and welcome gifts.
Flower bulbs: Fresh life in the dead of winter
Paperwhite narcissus, amaryllis and hyacinth bulbs are easy to force into blooms and make beautiful, living and growing gifts. Purchase bulbs at a garden center. For a charmingly simple gift, give a single bulb in a small pot. Or buy enough bulbs to fill a container of choice.
You can force bulbs — in other words, make them bloom indoors during the winter — in soil, rocks or water. If using soil, you'll want a container with some drainage holes and a saucer. If you're using rocks, you might choose a tallish glass vase that will help support flowers and foliage as the bulb grows. Or look for special bulb-forcing glasses that support a single bulb, allowing roots to dangle into water.
If your recipient is a gardener who might already have a container, or if you're shipping your gift, simply give bulbs and include growing instructions for good measure. If directions aren't available where you purchase the bulbs, find directions online and print on festive paper.
Body scrubs: From the kitchen to the bathroom
Body scrubs help exfoliate winter-dry skin. Handmade scrubs can include ingredients that nourish skin, the body's largest organ. Whip up concoctions of coconut oil and sugar, white cornmeal and lavender buds, oatmeal and honey or other easy combinations in the kitchen. Experiment with ratios, depending on your personal preferences for consistency. You can find recipes online.
Package body scrubs in repurposed plastic or glass jars, adding labels with ingredients — just in case your loved one has an allergy you don't know about. Add basic instructions for use so recipients don't spread the scrub on their toast.
Homemade treats: Alternatives to sugar plums
Homemade treats rate high with people who have everything or don't want more tchotchkes collecting dust. They can satisfy a sweet tooth while providing more nutrition than frosted sugar cookies or fudge. Healthy treats find favor with skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts, people with children constantly clamoring for snacks or anybody on the run. And isn't that just about everybody these days?
Some treats are simple enough that kids or grandkids can help make them. Stuff pitted dates with halved walnuts, whole almonds or other nuts. Buy dried figs and dip them in melted dark chocolate. If you want to get fancy, purchase tiny cupcake papers to hold your treats.
It's easy to bake up a batch of granola:
MY MOTHER'S GRANOLA
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar (or less)
1/3 cup fruit jam (strawberry or apricot work well)
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup nuts
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit
1 cup seeds (sunflower, sesame or pumpkin are nice)
1 cup coconut
NOTE: Vary ingredients to taste.
Cook butter, sugar and jam together in a small pan until smooth. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour sauce over dried ingredients. Toss well. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes at 325 degrees, stirring every 10 minutes. Spread mixture on paper towels to cool.
For decadence, after granola cools, add dark chocolate or holiday colored M&Ms.
Present homemade treats in tins that will keep food fresh and also leave your loved one with a reusable container.
DIY stationery: Letter perfect for card-carrying romantics
In the digital age, snail mail still fits the bill for special correspondence. Card-carrying romantics on your list will have fun making stationary. They might even create a real thank-you card in return.
At a paper specialty shop or an art supply store, select sheets of paper and envelopes in various sizes, colors and patterns. Add an ink pad and rubber stamp with a design reflecting the interests of your recipient. Toss in commemorative postage stamps or stickers in keeping with your theme or color scheme. A stick of sealing wax will melt hearts with nostalgia.
Present the stationary supplies in a decorative box. For an extra endearing touch, write a heartfelt note on one of the sheets and seal it with a kiss.
Bath salts: An antidote to winter weariness
Winter is an ideal time for warm baths, and scented Epsom salts add to the experience. Making bath salts can be as easy as adding essential oils to Epsom salts. Various oils have different properties. Try lavender for relaxation, eucalyptus for cold or congestion relief or ylang ylang as an aphrodisiac. Pine or spruce fragrances bring to mind fresh Christmas trees. There's no end to the combinations you can make by experimenting with exotic custom blends such as patchouli and tangerine.
To make bath salts, purchase Epsom salts at a pharmacy, grocery or warehouse store. Buy quality organic essential oils at a health food store or online. Add about 30 drops of essential oils per 2 cups of bath salts. Stir oils into salt crystals. Seal the package and allow the oils to permeate the salts.
Repackage your homemade bath salts in glass apothecary jars and attach a small wood or metal scoop. Or put scented salts in zipper-top plastic bags. To label, use an permanent marker to write on a sticker or a square of contact paper. Or, on the back of a holiday card, list ingredients and write a greeting.
We all know it's better to give and to receive thoughtful gifts that don't tax our environment, budget or mental health. To give a homemade gift is to receive a feeling of joy.
Colleen Smith is the author of “Glass Halo” and “Laid-Back Skier.” She writes from Denver, Colo.