Archive for December, 2013

Thrifty Gifting: DIY Bulk Gifts

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Every year it happens. You make your list. You check it twice. You get gifts for everyone, naughty and nice. Then you walk into work to discover that a co-worker has left a gift on your desk. Panic sets in as you realize that there are quite a few people that you didn’t include on your master holiday list that you will want to give a small gift to — co-workers, neighbors, friends you don’t see on a regular basis, etc. How do you cover all your bases without breaking the bank? The answer: DIY bulk gifts.

DIY bulk gifts are economical, time-saving (because you pick one item to mass produce), and are often more meaningful to the recipient, since you took the time to make the item yourself. Pinterest is chock-full of great ideas for bulk gifts — including many non-food items.

Here are my tips for choosing a bulk gift project:

* Before committing to a project, read the instructions in their entirety. Only choose projects you feel you can tackle. The holidays are busy enough as it is, so choosing a complicated project will only lead to frustration (and, if you are like me, tears).
* Decide how you are going to package your gift. Will you use mason jars? Small glass vials? Tins? Decorative take-out containers? Items like salts or oils can be given in a small container with an air tight seal. Cookies, granola or larger perishables can be stored in a larger jar or tin. Items like soaps could be left open and tied with a ribbon.
* Decide if any supplemental items are needed. Supplemental items include a tag with a list of ingredients in the item, how to use the item, or for items like vanilla extract or infused liquors, the date that the recipient can start using it.
* Buy all your items and pick a date for production. Pick something that you can easily knock out in an afternoon, and book that afternoon for yourself ahead of time. If you have kids, picking a project they can help with will make them feel like they are contributing, and could become an annual family tradition.
* Wrapping the items — keep it simple. With a handmade gift, one of the beauties is that elaborate wrapping is not needed. Print a label, or gift tag, and tie the item with a simple bow.

Below are some of my favorite finds for simple, but awesome, homemade gifts that you can produce for your holiday gifts:

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* Chalkboard Mug filled with chalk, hot chocolate, marshmallows and a candy cane
* Raspberry Lemon Sugar Scrub
* Peppermint Soap
* Spice Rubs/Mixtures (Chicken, Pork, Ranch Dressing)
* Homemade Granola (Make sure to check that your recipient doesn’t have a nut or grain allergy before gifting this.)
* Vanilla Salt
* Poppin’ Pedicure Set (This clever spa kit was created by TWG Christina.)

This year I will be making sets of the vanilla salts and vanilla extract from Joy the Baker’s site because I know a lot of people who love to cook and bake. I will put them in jars, and include a list of ways to use the salt, as well as a recipe for Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies that Joy recommends using the salt with. If you are doing something like a vanilla salt, where someone may struggle with figuring out a use for it, I find including a recipe or list of suggested uses is a great way to ensure that they feel comfortable trying it out.

Have any great bulk gift ideas that you have made or received in the past that aren’t mentioned here? Leave your comments below. Happy gifting!

Holiday Gift Guide: Hostess Gifts

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

If you have ever hosted a party, or even a dinner get-together, you know that it’s a lot of work. As an attendee, it’s a nice gesture to bring a small gift (something that is valued at $25 or less) to thank your hostess for the evening. A hostess gift does not need to be elaborate or expensive. Think simple and affordable. 

As a frequent hostess, I can tell you that the gifts I appreciate the most are the ones I can use when entertaining around the holidays. I have had many a time when dinner out has lead to impromptu drinks or dessert at my home, and having an arsenal of wine and already-made desserts on hand makes my job much easier. I can just run home, open a bottle of wine or brew a pot of coffee, plate some cookies or brownies, and enjoy.

Below is a gift guide with some of my favorite holiday hostess gifts:

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1. Bottle of Wine: Pick what you like. I love opening a bottle of wine that I know someone bought me and thinking that they gave me one of their favorites.
2. Local Microbrew: Does your host/hostess prefer beer? Bring a six-pack of a local microbrew, or even better, get a growler (we love the ones above from Oktoberfest Haus) and take it to your local brewery, or to Whole Foods, to be filled. Whole Foods offers discounts on refills during its biweekly happy hours.
3. Cocktail Ice Mold: For the host that enjoys his or her cocktails “on the rocks,” this ice mold is the perfect gift. The design is meant to keep the temperature of the drink cool, while minimizing melting, thus keeping the drink from getting watered down.
4. Scented Candle: Pick a scent that is fresh and clean and not overpowering, like Pier 1’s Citrus Cilantro.
5. Fairytale Brownies: Fairytale Brownies are an Arizona original, and individually wrapped, so they stay fresh longer.
6. Fancy Salts: Pink, black, sea, or laced with truffle oil , salts are a great gift that any foodie would adore.
7. Set of Cheese Knives or Cocktail Plates: I love getting these and have four little sets of cocktail plates that I can change out depending on my mood. These sets are both from Crate & Barrel.
8. Coffee or Tea w/Infuser: A bag of your host’s favorite coffee, or loose tea and a fun infuser like the one above are a great way to show your thanks every morning when he or she sips that first cup of the day.
9. Jams/Jellies – Don’t do your basic strawberry or blackberry – go to somewhere like Williams Sonoma, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market and pick up a couple of jars of something a little more exotic, like Blackberry Farm’s Apple Onion Jam.

To wrap, use a store-bought bag (something cloth or reusable is best) or simply tie a bow around the item. Be sure to include a small card so that the hostess knows that the item was from you. If you are really into planning ahead, buy a few bottles of your favorite wine, or any of the nonperishable suggestions, and keep them on hand so that you don’t have to rush out the week of the party to buy something. 

What is your favorite host/hostess gift that you have ever received? Do you have any great ideas that aren’t listed above? Please share your ideas and suggestions in the comments.

Happy Holidays!

Quick Gift Idea: Poppin’ Pedicure Set

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Have you ever been handed a sweet little package by someone who wasn’t on your gift list? I just hate that! While I believe it’s the thought that counts, I like to keep a stash of little gifts I can give in return as a way to say thank you.

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Supplies needed: toilet paper roll, gift wrap, scissors, tape, ribbon, nail polish & pedicure tools. 1. Cut a piece of gift wrap a couple inches wider than the toilet paper roll (this will allow you to tie the ends off). 2. Wrap the toilet paper roll and secure with a small piece of tape, leaving both ends open. 3. Tie off one end of the popper with ribbon. 4. Place pedicure tools inside the popper. 4. Tie off the open end of the popper with ribbon. 5. Fluff ends.

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These little pedi poppers would make great gifts for neighbors, co-workers or your boyfriend’s best friend’s new girlfriend. They don’t have to be filled with pedicure tools either. Fill them with candy, art supplies, or even a cute pair of earrings.

I can’t wait to make more!

Holiday Gift Guide: Fair Trade

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

It’s about time to do a bit of holiday shopping, and if you are anything like me, you have a few tough-to-buy-for folks on your list. Many of us are blessed to be able to buy ourselves the things we want, when we want them. That’s why finding a great gift at holiday time can be such a challenge. If starting a tradition of charitable giving was vetoed at your last family meeting, try fair trade products for this year’s holiday gifts.

Why fair trade? When you purchase fair trade products you ensure that the artisan or worker who produced the product earns a fair, living wage. Fair trade combats some of the cruelty of this world, protecting children from unhealthy and unsafe child labor abuses, and helping women recover and restore their self-worth after escaping from sex trafficking. Buying fair trade means investing in the kind of entrepreneurship that transforms communities and lifts people out of extreme poverty. Fair trade is good for the environment, too. Coffee, cacao, sugar and other crops that are traded fairly are grown by farmers who have a stake in their future and who work to create a high quality product and a bright future for their families.

So, does this mean fair trade is more expensive? Well, sometimes it is, but not always, and not by much. Most often the quality is higher, yet the prices on fairly traded goods are comparable to those products that may be unethically sourced and produced. Fairly traded products tend to be unique and crafted with pride.

Here are some of my favorite fair trade gifts for this holiday season:

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1. A Mighty Morning Coffee (Peru): Grown by a cooperative of farmers, who have used the proceeds from fairly traded products to learn sustainable and organic farming, and reinvest earnings into their cooperative and their community.
2. Feather Weave Scarf (India): This scarf, like many from fair trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages, helps support business education and training for ethnically and socially disadvantaged artisans in India.
3. Create World Peace Jute Tote (India): Perfect as a market bag or everyday tote, this piece is handcrafted by women who have escaped sex trafficking and are learning literacy and life skills while earning a living wage.
4. Hand Painted Candle (South Africa): The women of a small South African village, where unemployment levels can be up to 50%, work together to create these hand painted candles using traditional designs.
5. Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt and Toffee: Chocolate and coffee are great places to start adding fair trade purchases to your life. Cacao and coffee farmers are some of the hardest hit workers when it comes to the unfair labor practices of plantation style farming. Every time you choose fair trade chocolate you make life a little sweeter for farmers.
6. A Little Bird Told Me Note Cards (Bangladesh): Isn’t it a thrill to get a piece of “real” mail? I always get so excited to see a handwritten note in my mailbox. The only thing better is knowing these note cards are made by women who are receiving education, health care and access to loans.
7. Steel Drum Metal Art (Haiti): This is one of my favorites because it wins the trifecta: it supports industry in still-struggling Port-au-Prince, Haiti, it is made from recycled materials, and it is absolutely beautiful.
8. Luscious Lips Organic Vegan Lip Balm (USA): Made in the USA out of certified fair trade, organic and vegan materials this lip balm is perfect for keeping stockings stuffed, and lips moist and mistletoe ready.
9. Aqua Blue Flower Alligator Hair Clip (Malawi): This beauty was imagined by an American designer who fell in love with African textiles while living in Malawi and now sells accessories and handbags made by Malawi women. These women earn a living wage and are breaking free from the cycle of poverty.
10. One World 2009 Chenin Blanc (South Africa): Check labels carefully when buying wine and you’re likely to find a fairly traded treasure like this South African Chenin Blanc. What’s better than a little vino? A vino that helps farmers recover from economic disadvantage and care for sustainable vineyards, that’s what!
11. Hand Stamped Owl Leather Wallet (India): To be honest I was surprised to discover Worldstock Fair Trade when browsing Overstock.com one day. They’ve collected thousands of beautiful items, including this cheery little wallet, from all over the world and sell them at fair prices with 60-70% of the proceeds going directly to the artisan. As an environmental bonus, all Worldstock items ship carbon neutral.
12. Handcrafted Acacia Wood Divided Serving Bowl (Philippines): Hand carved from sustainably collected acacia wood in the Philippines, this bowl would be a perfect gift for the entertainer in your life. Who hosts the best parties? The friend who serves snacks in this beauty!

For more information about fair trade, there is a comprehensive and accurate Wikipedia entry on Fair Trade,that can explain the basics. More info is available through the certification organization, Fair Trade USA. Online retailers Ten Thousand Villages, Novica, Dsenyo and others featured in the gift guide have web pages that explain their mission and values. As with most things, not everyone agrees that fair trade is the right thing to do but if you do a bit of research and buy from reputable suppliers, you can be confident that your purchase is helping individuals and families worldwide. What sustainable, ethically sourced or fairly traded gifts will you exchange this year?

Hosting a Gift-Wrapping Party

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

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I had never heard of a gift-wrapping party until I was invited to one three years ago. From that day on I was hooked, and now it is one of the holiday events I most look forward to.

What is a gift-wrapping party? It’s exactly what it sounds like. You get together with a group of friends, have refreshments, and wrap your presents. It’s an incredibly fun way to knock out what is usually a very isolated task.

Although the party itself can vary based on the host’s preferences, there is one basic rule that should be included on your invitation — each attendee should bring at least one roll of wrapping paper, a set of gift tags, and a package of ribbons& bows to share.

For someone like me, who usually likes to theme her wrapping, this was a tough rule to follow. My first year, I brought my own wrap, and just picked up an extra roll of paper, tags and bows to donate to the party. When I arrived and saw all the exciting new papers available, I got into the spirit of the party and started to mix and match.

As the host, you have a lot of different ways you can run the party. Some of us love to plan every little detail — a menu of finger foods and desserts from Pinterest, a festive tablescape, wrapping station tables set-up around the house, and a custom Christmas playlist. Some hostesses even have a prize at the end for the guest whose gift is voted “best wrapped” by her fellow partygoers.

Your first step in planning any party is to send out the invitation. Unlike my fellow Wilderness Girls Rachael and Christina, I tend to not be a paper invitation girl – I love me some evites. There are a few reasons for this. First, I always have my phone or tablet with me. So, an electronic invite is great because I can easily RSVP whenever it’s convenient, and as long as I keep the link to the evite, I won’t ever have to worry about leaving the house without the directions, and having to turn back. As a host, I like having the ability to update the entire attendee list through the website. A final benefit is that it’s a green alternative to a paper invitation, but honestly, the green that I get concerned about is the cost to buy invitations and mail them, so saving money is another great reason to go electronic with your invitations.

Now that your invitation is out, you want to think menu and décor. Some of my favorite finds from Pinterest for parties are holiday sangria, and hearty finger foods that you could avoid touching or that aren’t too messy (since you will be wrapping presents) – salami & cheese skewers, hummus and veggies in a cup, strawberry shortcake bites and white chocolate popcorn.

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For décor, I love using Christmas scrapbooking paper for a flag banner (inspired by this pin), and chain garland for the food table. Everything else tablecloths, napkins, etc., you can pick up at your local dollar store, or the dollar bins at Target. 

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Finally, as the host, make sure you pick up a few extra pairs of scissors and rolls of tape. The dollar store carries both of these items as well, so pick them up there, or remember to ask each attendee to bring her own. You can either designate a table to hold all the rolls of paper/ribbons/tags that people are not using, or you can get a wire trash can to hold the rolls and use bins or baskets that you have around the house to hold the tags, ribbons, etc.

And that’s it! Again, the beauty of this party is that you can make it as fancy and elaborate, or casual and laid back as you want. If you have any tips or ideas for a gift-wrapping party that you would like to share, please do so in the comments below. Have a happy holiday season!