Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

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:


* 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:


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!

Healthfully Surviving Holiday Parties

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013


I love holiday parties — getting together with friends to laugh and relax through the stress of the season. But how do you navigate the spread of appetizers and cocktails and make healthy choices? As I said in my previous article on healthy holiday tips, I don’t think avoiding every calorie-laden goodie is a successful method of getting through the season. It’s all about making smart choices in both your food and spirit selections.

Here are my quick tips for eating at a holiday/cocktail party:

* If possible, eat beforehand. Stick with something like a basic salad with a lean protein. It will fill you up, but not so much that you can’t still enjoy an appetizer or two.
* If you can’t eat beforehand, load up on vegetables or salad and eat smaller portions of the cheeses, meats and carbs.
* Socialize! You will find that if you talk more, you will eat more slowly. When you eat slowly, you are more aware of when you are full, and will not eat as much.
* Pace yourself. Start with small portions and get more if you are still hungry. We all tend to clear our plate, so the more you get initially, the more you will eat.
* Don’t beat yourself up. Food is supposed to be enjoyable, so don’t berate yourself if you splurge and ignore all the rules above. Just make sure to balance out that evening with healthier meals during the week.

Now that we have covered food, let’s move on to spirits. In investigating tips on better booze/mixer combos to drink, I stumbled upon a great WebMD article with great tips on partying responsibly. Here is a summary of those:

* Alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks to save calories. (This will also help you to eat less, as if you are anything like me, the more you drink, the less reserved you are about what you are eating.)
* Choose wine, light beer, or simple cocktails made with low-calorie mixers.
* Skip the mixer altogether.
* Dilute your drink.
* Have a game plan. Decide beforehand how many cocktails you are going to drink, don’t drink on an empty stomach, and know your limits.
* Don’t drink and drive. If you have had too much, have a friend take you home, or call a cab.

The key to healthy eating is planning. So, before you head to that party, know your limits (both in food and drink), and enjoy! The real fun of a party is the stories you tell, and the experiences with your friends and family.

Cheers to all of you for a healthy, safe and happy holiday season! (And again, do not drink and drive!)

What are your tips for getting through parties while staying healthy? Leave them in the comments below.

Advent Calendars

Monday, November 18th, 2013

The tradition of Advent means different things for different people.  For some, an advent calendar is just a countdown to Christmas and there is nothing wrong with that, but for me Advent is much more. This is the time of year time when Lutheran Christians excitedly await the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas morning.  In addition, Advent is the beginning of our liturgical year (the church calendar). Since we now have a daughter, it feels like time to upgrade the cheap-o snowman themed countdown calendar Jacob and I have used for a decade in favor of something more.

December 1st is fast upon us so I turned to the only place a person in this situation can turn: the Internet. Specifically, Pinterest. In my search, I found several types of advent calendars from super simple to over-the-top.  I prefer the simple crafty calendars made with natural or recyclable materials. I was particularly fond of those designed for re-use year after year.  I love the sustainable aspect of that, but, even more so, I love the element of tradition that exists in bringing out the family advent calendar each year.

Here are a few of my favorites organized by material type:

Recyclable Materials (diverted from landfill)


Design and photo by Morning Creativity


Design by Nadine Reeves Photography by Ryan Brook/TC Media for Canadian Living

Reusable Fabric Bags


Design and photo by SevernHomemade on Etsy


Design and photo by

Paper-free “Paper” Chains


Design and photo by lovestitches


Design and photo by humbleBea on Etsy

Now to make a decision and get crafting. Which of these do you like best? Have you checked out the plethora of advent calendar options on Pinterest? Share your ideas in the comments below.

A Tisket, A Tasket – Let’s Make a Guest Welcome Basket!

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013


With the holidays fast approaching, many of us have family or other guests coming into town to visit. A great way to make those staying with you feel welcome is by putting together a basic guest basket for their room.

A guest basket should consist of items usually forgotten when traveling. Although a larger initial expense, it is inexpensive to maintain, since most guests will not use all the items on each visit.

The image below shows some items you might include:


1. Basket/Container (Target has a great selection of organizers.)
2. Lip Balm
3. First Aid Kit
4. Mouthwash
5. Makeup Remover Towelettes
6. Gum
7. Wrinkle Release Spray/Static Guard
8. Lint Roller (especially if you have pets who shed)
9. Toothpaste
10. Shaving Cream & Razor
11. Lotion (I like a relaxing scent like lavender)
12. Sunscreen
13. Hairspray
14. Mani/Pedi Set, Nail File, Nail Clippers
15. Baby Powder
16. Hand Sanitizer
17. Floss
18. Cotton Swabs

Some additional items that would be good to have on hand are a box of tissues and a toothbrush (this is a great way to use all those brushes your dentist gives you).

I leave my guest basket on the dresser along with a vase of flowers, a few squares of Ghirardelli chocolate, a couple of bottles of water, and either some magazines, a crossword puzzle or Sudoku book and a pen.

The holidays can be hectic, so providing your guests with a room that is comfortable, and stocked with the basics, will make their stay even more enjoyable.

If you received a guest basket while visiting someone during the holiday season, what would you like to receive? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Healthfully Surviving the Holidays

Monday, November 4th, 2013


One of the biggest challenges is getting through the holidays healthfully. I am not a proponent of cutting out all splurging between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, as I don’t think it’s realistic to do. Any time I have tried, about one week in, I give up, and then go overboard in consuming as many cookies as I can get my hands on.

There are so many options around the holidays between dinners, parties, seasonal lattes, cocktails, and the dozens of cookies, cakes and other baked goods that people bring into the workplace.

The key to successfully navigating through it all is making smart choices.

Here are my tips for keeping a healthy balance during the holidays:

Start each day with a healthy, protein-based breakfast.
Most of the goodies around the holidays are carb-based, so by eating something like a spinach and egg-white omelet in the morning, you are getting in the protein that you need to fill you up and energize you for the day. I am also a fan of Christina’s Berry Yogurt Breakfast Smoothie.

Limit the amount of parties and events that you go to.
Keeping your schedule under control will not only keep you away from overindulging too often, but it will also provide you with much needed down time. Give yourself some time to be home, relax, and watch your favorite holiday movie, taking a little break from the craziness.

Treat yo’self, but plan it.
When faced with those tempting cookies in the office, think about what other plans you have for the week. Is there another night where you are going to a cocktail party with amazing appetizers? Or a day you are going to brunch with friends and getting gingerbread pancakes that make your eyes roll back? It makes it easier to skip the so-so cookie when you know you have a better treat coming to you later in the week.

Lighten or limit the lattes.
Have a holiday latte you like? Get it with skim or soy milk, or get it less frequently. I often find that the holiday lattes end up making me feel groggy anyway, so normally I get my favorite once during the season, so that I feel like I got my fix. So don’t deprive yourself but find ways to space them out, or make them healthier (many are available as sugar-free now).

Eat at home when you can.
Plan your meals for the week and do all your grocery shopping in one trip. Make sure to load up on lean protein and veggies. Ever feel hungry beyond belief after overdoing it on cookies? It’s because your body is hungry for the nutrients it needs. Cooking at home and focusing on the food groups you are missing will help keep you full and your body happy. Sites like Skinnytaste have lighter versions of higher-calorie items, so you can still get all the flavor, while keeping it healthy.

Stick to the basics.
Drink plenty of water, rest when you can, and maintain some semblance of an exercise routine. The holidays are a busy time, and the more run down and dehydrated you get, the worse you feel. There is a reason every nutrition plan includes this trifecta – because they work. So, remember to keep them as part of your routine all year round.

“But what about parties? How do I survive those?” Keep an eye out for an upcoming post where I will give you some quick tips on holiday parties.

What tips do you have that help you to splurge responsibly during the holidays? Share them in the comments below.