By Monica O’Malley Tavares.

In early winter I find myself gratefully tucked inside our little farmhouse on a hill. My views of the gardens and fields and woods are, for the moment, seen through the kitchen and living room windows. As bare branches balance a delicate first snow and the sun just skims above the horizon, I relish a time of renewal. A time to enjoy a bit of nesting, of easing into a seasonal routine of cozy socks, down comforters, books by the fire, and piping hot bowls of stew.

As the holidays approach, I feel refreshed and crave the joyfulness of gathering with friends and family, holiday meals, and all that this time of year entails. My favorite way to celebrate the holidays is through the act of gift giving. It has taken me many years to realize that the most appreciated, best-loved gifts are often simple and homemade.

I spend hours gathering supplies and planning these gifts. Pieces of well-loved vintage linen tablecloths find new life as they are handstitched into rustic hearts. Each is filled with a scoop of dried lavender blossoms and finished with a length of twine for hanging. A simmering potpourri made of dried orange slices, star anise, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks get bundled into crisp cellophane and tied with festive tags.

In the kitchen my love language is ever-present. I fill bakery boxes with homemade loaves of cheddar bread. Cooling racks covered with an endless variety of cookies run the length of the island. Canning jars line the counter, ready to be filled with a very special Christmas Eve delivery of homemade Cranberry Sangria made using local cranberries from a neighbor’s bog.

I relish the moment my gifts are accepted, and thoroughly enjoy the reaction of the receiver; however, my true joy comes from knowing that my gifts will be USED and LOVED and TOUCHED and ENJOYED, not tucked in a drawer only to be forgotten. I used to think practical was boring, but this celebration of simple, useful, meaningful gifts made with love has proven me wrong.

After the holidays have passed, I steal a bit of solitude. Sitting in an overstuffed chair by the window, I gather a blanket around me. Plump snowflakes melt against the glass and stream an icy path to the ground below. I contemplate this season of festivities. I may mourn its passing momentarily, but will reflect on its meaning for many months and most likely years to come.

Monica O’Malley-Tavares is a flower grower, writer, photographer, and middle school teacher. During the holidays she can be found reveling in the joy of gift giving, goody baking, and gathering with friends and family.