Friday, November 7, 2008

The Prairie Girl's Guide to Christmas

In light of the current economic situation, I thought this article was worth revisiting. It originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 07 issue of Adorn (may it rest in peace).

The Prairie Girl's Guide to Christmas
Two years ago, I quit Christmas. In the middle of stuffing my annual letter into a fancy-pants letterpressed holiday card, I quit. I backed away from the stack of cards and pulled out my knitting instead.

Eighty of my closest friends and colleagues didn’t hear from me that year, but oh my goodness, did my pal love the lacy shawl I knitted for her.

I didn’t throw in the holiday towel altogether. I just stopped trolling for parking at the mall, dealing with crowds hopped up on eggnog lattes, running to three parties in one night, turning my house into a 1,000 points of light, and buying designer gifts en masse.

Instead of these soul-sapping activities, I created new traditions. I created personal and personalized gifts. In other words, I went all Laura Ingalls Wilder on the holidays.

In doing this, I got my Christmas spirit back.

In re-reading Little House books while researching my own book on prairie crafts and skills, I could feel how precious one handmade gift and stick of Christmas candy could mean to a child when presented with love and thoughtfulness. I can relate. When someone presents me with a gift so perfectly chosen or made for me, I get weepy. I also well up when giving someone a personalized present. I love wrapping the gift as well, artfully providing some clue to the gift within.

And just between you and me, I can’t afford to keep up with copious and label-laden gifts. So I go for quality and thoughtfulness over quantity and price. A thick lotion, packaged in a sweet tin and infused with a friend’s favorite scent, goes over just as well as a spendy department store jar of cream. Bringing a homemade rhubarb pie to a holiday party rather than the ubiquitous bottle of champagne or wine sends any hostess over the moon. It also sends her to the pantry, where she hides the pie behind the canned goods, hording it for herself.

When it comes to holiday cards, I customize a few, and use the time I’ve saved on the dozens of other cards crafting sparkly jewelry for my nieces or making popcorn balls with my pals. Instead of garish lights that frankly give me a migraine, I drape cranberry and popcorn garlands on the boughs of my tree and use my great-grandmother’s quilt as a tree skirt.

Below are a just a few gift ideas that are inexpensive and easy to create and customize, no matter how fickle or fashionable your friends or family. And another thought: host a small holiday party with your pals, serve up some eggnog, and set up a prairie girl workshop for them to make their own lotions and potions. Supply essential oils so they can infuse their creation with whatever they need to get through the holidays, such as lavender if they need to relax or peppermint if they need an energy boost. Sadly, there’s no oil that I know of that will help with family dynamics.

Lavender Linen Waters
You don’t have to knit a shawl or spend all year making a quilt. There are many unique and thoughtful gifts you can whip up in a jif. For instance, make linen waters for friends who love to press their clothes and curtains, and infuse it with their favorite scent (lavender is a lovely choice).

2 teaspoons lavender essential oil (or essential oil of your choice)
5 tablespoons 100-proof vodka
1 cup distilled water

Sterilize a spray bottle (preferably glass) by washing it and then dipping it in a hot water bath and letting it dry completely. Combine the essential oil and vodka in the bottle, and shake vigorously. Add the distilled water. Shake gently before using. To use, mist on clothing and linens before ironing.

Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

Furniture Polish
For the homebody, mix a homemade furniture polish. Packaged in a genteel glass bottle, your loved one will appreciate this almost as much as the coffee table she asked Santa for.

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice

Sterilize a spray bottle (preferably glass) by washing it and then dipping it into a hot water bath. Dry the bottle. Pour the oil and juice into the spray bottle and gently shake before each use. Spritz polish onto a clean cloth until it’s slightly damp. Use the cloth to polish furniture, using circular motions, and re-spraying the cloth as needed. Use another cloth to dry the furniture, again polishing in circles. Store bottle in a cool, dark place.

Makes 3/4 cup

Night Cream
For your beauty buddy, present her with an indulgent, moisturizing night cream, perfect for the winter months.

3 Tablespoons sweet almond oil
2 Tablespoons hydrous lanolin (lanolin that has been combined with purified water)
2 Tablespoons cocoa butter
2 teaspoons rosewater
1/2 teaspoon honey
6 drops rose essential oil

If you have a double boiler, pull it out. (A glass bowl can be used in its place.) Heat a pan of water on medium-high heat. When water starts to boil, turn down the heat to medium. Place the double boiler in the water and add the sweet almond oil, hydrous lanolin, and cocoa butter. As the ingredients melt, stir with a metal spoon until completely blended.

Remove the double boiler from the heat, and let the mixture cool slightly. Add the rosewater, honey, and rose essential oil, whisk until blended, and then scoop your new moisturizer into a sterilized plastic or glass jar.

Before applying to the face, test by rubbing a bit into the wrist. If there’s no reaction other than supple skin, feel free to apply to a clean face before bed. Store in a cool place.

Makes 1/2 cup

Insect Repellent
For the outdoorsy set, how about insect repellent that doesn’t smell like a vat of chemicals?

1/4 cup witch hazel (or substitute olive oil, rubbing alcohol, or vodka)
1 Tablespoon citronella, cedarwood, tea tree, or sandalwood essential oil

Sterilize a spray bottle (glass or plastic) by dipping it in a pan of boiling water. Let dry. Add witch hazel and essential oil of your choice (any of the oils listed above are excellent mosquito repellants) to bottle and close tightly. Shake well before each use. To use, spray liberally on any exposed areas when you are outdoors.

Makes approximately 1/3 cup

Decorating your Homestead for the Holidays
  • Pierce an orange full of cloves and hang this fragrant pomander in a doorway.
  • Fill clear vases with Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples, or even your favorite ornaments.
  • String cranberry and popcorn garlands and drape them on your trees, both inside and out (give the birds something to enjoy).
  • Use a quilt as a tablecloth or tree skirt.
  • Make your own ornaments with pinecones and found items.
  • Hang real stockings from your mantel and fill them with oranges, nuts, hard candy, and peppermint sticks.
  • Light a taper candle in each window (just keep them away from drafts and flammable items).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for these great ideas! I miss Adorn, too. :(

Unknown said...

What about a room spray for those of us with fluffy cats and hardwood floors? Whenever I sweep, I just end up pushing the enormous dust bunnies around the room.

Is there anything that smells great, that could dampen the isht?

Jennifer Worick said...

Let me think about that. I bet we could whip up a furniture polish/linen waters hybrid that would attack the dust kitties.

Anonymous said...

Your ideas are so right-on! These tight times will have many of us going back to our Laura roots to celebrate the season for the best of reasons. Thanks for the reminder.
Connie in Colorado

kansasrose said...

Hey love your blog! I'm a born/bred Kansas prairie girl. Love your book too! :) This is a great article...heck I've done many of these ideas through the years cause I'm always broke it seems. This brings so many good memories. Bout' time we all got back to basics. Thanks for making prairie cool. :) Best wishes! kansasrose ps. I'm also up for an au natural solution to end prairie dust bunnies on wood floors. I have a huge mainecoon cat that contributes to the problem.

Junque Rethunque said...

I got frustrated with popcorn, but found that cheerios or froot loops made GREAT holiday tree decor when strung on yarn or string. They're also easier for the kiddos to help with.

For a tree skirt, I have cut a vintage table cloth from one edge to the middle (it was kind of beat up already) and it's adorable! It would be even better if I quilted it with some muslin on the back of it... hmmm... I need to remember that. :)

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