My favorite last-minute gift ideas

THE CONSCIOUS CURLY

By SUSAN SWANSON

The holidays can be a fun-filled time to reflect upon what is important and spend time with those we love. It can also be stressful and exhausting, as we run from party to party, event to event, and try to make time for cookie-making, present-wrapping, and all of the lovely traditions that make our holidays ours. In the midst of all that, it’s often difficult to figure out what to buy those we care about (or don’t care about but have to buy presents for, anyway), and often, we want to at least appear as though we’ve given the matter some thought and effort—even if we haven’t the time or clue. So the matter often gets put off, and we wait until the absolute last moment and have to weave and push through all the other last-minute shoppers at various local stores (or browse online for stores who will send items one-day shipping for an unexorbitant price). If you need help, I have a few DIY suggestions for those of you in this mess, and for those who are absolutely against DIY-ing, a few good, green product suggestions that may or may not make it to your door by Christmas day.

Everyone needs lotion—if not for the body or face, at least for the hands, especially in the colder climes this winter. So making your own hard lotion is my first DIY suggestion, and the best part is that while making it, you can also easily change it into a DIY lipbalm or Chapstick recipe for extra gifts. I have never been much of a “crafty” person, and making my own lotion or lip balm seemed like a lot of trouble to go to for something I could just buy, but once I found a few recipes (and then tried them out multiple times to get my own perfect version), I realized that this particular project was not only easy, it resulted in gifts that made people feel special, because I took the time to make them myself. Below is my favorite recipe, with links to the ingredients I have used. You should be able to order all of these online, but those in bigger cities might also be able to run to various health stores for them, too.

 

DIY Lotion Bars

  • 1/2 cup Oil (Use your choice of mixtures or just one—coconut oil is a good base, but you can also use almond, olive and/or argan oil in any mixture up to ½ cup. Note: If you use almond oil, it should be added LAST, after melting the beeswax and shea butters)
  • 1/2 cup Organic Shea Butter (or Cocoa Butter, Mango Butter, etc.) Can use a mixture of any of these–shea butter has a strong smell so you might try mango butter, which is supposedly odorless.
  • 1/2 cup minus 1T or more Beeswax Pastilles (see Note 1)
  • Essential Oils of choice (you can use different scents for different lotion bars, since you add the oils after you pour the lotion into the muffin tins)
  • Optional: 1 tsp of vitamin E oil to preserve
  • turkey baster (you can skip this if you’re a steady pourer—I’m not)
  • muffin tin or silicone molds in cute shapes (See Note 2)
  • wooden stirrers, or something to stir with that you don’t mind getting lotion on (those wooden tongue depressors you can buy at beauty supply stores for waxing work great)
  • Mason jar

Note 1:  You can make the lotion harder by adding more beeswax or softer by adding more oil. Start with equal parts oils and solids and figure out what consistency you like best. I like to use a little less beeswax and more oil because it melts more easily when applying.

Note 2: This made five full-size lotion bars in a muffin tin and one a little less than half (which I broke up and put in a travel tin for lip balm).

Method:

  1. Pour beeswax in a pint size or larger glass jar (I used a wide-mouthed Mason jar and will continue to use it for this so I don’t have to wash it out) and place in a saucepan filled halfway with water on the stove. Heat at a little over medium heat to melt beeswax–this will take several minutes. Don’t let water get into the jar or it will ruin the lotion.
  2. Once beeswax is almost melted, pour in oils (except almond), then shea butter last—mix with wooden stirrer. Shea butter gets grainy if you heat too long or hot. The whole melting process takes around 10 minutes; just stir occasionally until it’s all liquid. If you are using almond oil, add it once the shea is melted and stir.
  3. Use turkey baster (or pour from Mason jar) to move liquid lotion into the muffin tins/molds–it will cool quickly so work fast (but be careful–it’s hot)!  Quickly add about 10 drops of any essential oils to each lotion bar and gently stir to incorporate.
  4. Leave the lotion bars in the muffin tins/molds to set for several hours or overnight in a place where they won’t be disturbed–I put mine in the freezer for an hour or so at the end of the cooling time and they popped out easily.

 

Wrap all of the extra lotion bars in beeswax wrap, parchment paper, or place in Christmas tins or boxes as gifts, and store in the fridge until giving or ready to use. Make sure to use the lotion as soon as you’re out of the shower (dry off mostly but make sure skin is still warm–lotion will melt and glide on more easily).  Rub bar between hands and voila! Easy, natural lotion. It takes a little more time than regular, bottle lotion (approximately 45 more seconds for me–yes, I actually timed it so you’d know for sure…have to be accurate!) but it’s worth it to give a homemade gift (or keep for yourself).

 

Now, to make the lip balm/Chapstick, you use most of the same ingredients and you will need a place to store it—try to avoid plastic Chapstick containers unless you already have some empty ones you could reuse. My suggestion is a metal tin, but again, if you have something suitable you can reuse, that works great if it can easily be cleaned out before putting the new recipe in. Instructions are below.

 

DIY Lip Balm/Chapstick

  • 3 T Coconut Oil (or use 2 T coconut oil and mix in 1 T almond oil LAST, after shea butter and beeswax have melted, as the almond oil should not get too hot)
  • 1 T Shea Butter
  • 2 T Beeswax Pastilles
  • 15-20 drops essential oils

Use the exact method as above, with the exception of the addition of almond oil last, if you choose to use it, and carefully pour or use baster to put into tins to cool. Allow to cool several hours undisturbed or store in refrigerator or freezer to cool quickly.

The process above may sound like too much work or effort, but in total, it only takes about an hour to make both recipes. Now, if you do not read this in time to do it before Christmas because you cannot obtain the ingredients, then I have a short list of my favorite sustainable, green gift ideas you might be able to order online with 1-day shipping or find in a local store. If not, you can always give a nice card with a thoughtful note and tell them their gift is on the way! (Okay, maybe not the best idea, but you must work with what you’ve got at this point—it’s five days until Christmas!).

Non-DIY Gift Ideas:

  1. Plaine Products body lotion, shampoo, conditioner, body wash. These amazing-smelling (Rosemary Mint Vanilla!) products are on a subscription service and come in metal containers. You pick an amount of time for renewal (or go in and cancel after ordering if you don’t want to pay forevermore for this gift) and when it’s time to renew, they’ll send a new one and a shipping label to send your old container back! I love both the shampoo and conditioner (curly method approved!) and the lotion is simply divine. I can’t say enough good things about this company.
  2. Baked or Local Goods. Visit a local bakery or other local favorite and choose various cookies, cakes, breads, or other local novelties (wine, bourbon and other spirits are often appreciated…) and wrap in a nice, reusable paper box, bag, or metal tin (or make your own, like Maggie and Deena suggest in THIS POST!).
  3. Reusable Grocery and Produce Bags. You can buy reusable grocery bags almost anywhere, and produce bags are easy to find online or in some grocery or department stores. This is the gift that keeps giving!
  4. Books. It may not be frilly or flashy, but in my opinion, there is nothing more thoughtful than receiving a book from someone (paper or electronic versions) that sounds like something you’d enjoy or that made them think of you.
  5. Experience gifts. These are my favorite gifts to give and receive! Your loved ones [usually] want to spend more time with you. Give them tickets to the theatre, a sporting event, concert, museum, festival, or giftcards for dinner and a nice note telling them you’ll join them (or won’t, if you think they’d rather take someone else!). Write a note in a card and offer to volunteer somewhere together. Or, for bigger gifts, a weekend trip somewhere they have always wanted to go is always a big pleaser.

I hope your Christmas is filled with warmth and laughter, and that something here might have inspired you to give that perfect gift, even if the perfect idea didn’t come until last minute.

Susan Swanson is an Associate Professor of English at Owensboro Community and Technical College in Owensboro, KY. She spends her time dabbling in various pursuits, from cooking to yoga to wine, and learning how to manage her curly hair (this takes more time than one might think). She believes in the sustainability of the planet as well as the self, and being conscious of those areas where we can improve in order to live healthier and happier lives.


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