Still the Perfect Homemade Holiday Gift

It was just about this time last year that I started scrambling for Christmas gift ideas for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues. I have criteria when it comes to homemade gifts. The gift has to be made by me and easily mass produced. I prefer that it be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. And above all, it needs to be affordable.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Faithful readers will recall that I made Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract, as pictured above.

What you, my dear readers were not aware of is that life being what it is, I didn’t get around to actually delivering my awesome little homemade gifts in time for Christmas. Thankfully, I have very understanding friends. No one seemed to mind.

16 Gifts College Students Want

Stressed out because you just don’t know what to give that 20-something or college student on your holiday gift list? Well, stress no more. I’ve got you covered with 16 great gift ideas that are sure to please and fit your budget, too.   

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A college student gift doesn’t have to be complicated, whether it’s for Christmas, birthday, or a special occasion. It just needs to be relevant and thoughtful. Some of the best gift ideas are surprisingly affordable.

The key to selecting a gift for college-age folks is to pick something that 1) they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves 2) fits their current stage of life and needs and 3) ranks high in cool factor.

Any one of these gifts will send a message loud and clear that you cared enough to put some time and thought into selecting a really great and useful gift.

Winter Comfort and Joy Depends on the Right Clothes

I have to admit to being somewhat agnostic when it comes to winter weather. Living in southern California, it’s something I hear about but do not experience.

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I am aware that it gets cold in some areas of the world. I’ve heard the term “polar vortex” and know the principle behind the windchill factor. But honestly, I just don’t care one way or the other. Well, I didn’t care until a couple of weeks ago.

I traveled to Colorado on business, booked into a nice hotel and settled in to get ready for a meeting the following morning. I woke to snow and temps in the low 30s F. There I was in open-toed shoes and a light sweater trying to break through some kind of frozen material disguised as ice and snow on the car’s windshield.

Normally, I would have chalked it up to poor planning and forgotten about it. But this was different. As I stood there in the snow, chipping away at the windshield feeling more foolish than cold, I kinda’ panicked. In just a matter of months, my husband and I, our business and all that we own will pack it up and move to Colorado! 

Online Shopping Safety Tips

As convenient as Internet shopping can be (stores never close, no parking problems, no cranky salespeople), there are as many hazards. There are many good buys online, it’s easy to assume that everything is a good buy.  The simplicity of online shopping can blind us to potential pitfalls.

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The way to become a savvy online shopper is to know how to avoid these hazards:

Hidden costs. The quoted price may not be the full price. It may not include applicable sales tax (varies by state and merchant) or the costs of shipping and handling. “Handling” can include just about anything that merchant wants to charge for the box, packing materials, tape and labor to put all of that together. The cost of shipping can vary greatly depending on the carrier and speed of delivery.

Unscrupulous merchants. There are millions of online merchants online including some with no scruples. The way to avoid this hazard is to know your merchant. Stick with merchants you recognize because they have brick and mortar stores. Read the reviews others have posted regarding their experiences with that merchant.

The Case of the Stinky Coffeemaker

Got a resistant odor in your kitchen that you just can’t identify? Or locate the source? Hmmmm. When did you last de-grunge your coffeemaker?

photo credit coffeedetective.com

photo credit coffeedetective.com

Our good friends at NokOut.com tell me that coffeemakers need to be cleaned at least monthly to remove hard water deposits, leftover coffee oils that become rancid and other impurities. The oils in coffee collect, spoil and form bacteria when allowed to lurk inside that appliance.

This means I am about 10 years behind. Sure, I run a carafe of white vinegar through my coffeemaker from time to time (read: maybe once a year), but that’s about it. Whoops.

I’m learning that vinegar alone won’t do a good job of deeply disinfecting the appliance. But I’m not comfortable with pouring bleach into my coffeemaker, either. Nok-Out is the perfect solution because it is non-toxic and completely safe to use in the kitchen, around kids and pets, too.

This is how to do a proper cleaning, disinfecting and deodorizing with Nok-Out: Spray the coffeemaker inside, outside―and all over with Nok-Out. Allow to sit for up to 10 minutes. (You could use this time to disinfect the rest of your kitchen while Nok-Out is doing its magic on the coffeemaker. Have you looked deeply inside your refrigerator, lately? Yikes.)

Dreaming of an Organized Garage

I really like an organized home. When things get all chaotic and messy, I find that my mind kinda’ gets that way, too. But when everything has a place—and everything is in its place—I feel a sense of peace. I can think straight, relax and enjoy.

Some rights reserved: Rubbermaid

Some rights reserved: Rubbermaid Fast Track

I really like an organized garage, too. At least I’ve enjoyed the pictures I’ve seen of garages that function in all the ways that garages are supposed to. Let’s just say I haven’t experienced this first hand.

Faithful readers know that my husband is a woodworker—a master craftsman. He remodels our homes, designs and builds heirloom furniture. This amazing talent does come with unintended consequences. Let’s just say the man does not possess a single iota of organizational talent. I’ll leave it there, although I could offer several pictures examples to illustrate my point.

For 27 years we had a two-car garage, also known as the hubs’ workshop—and for the record, there was no space in this garage for a vehicle of any size.

How to Afford the Big Stuff

You don’t need me to tell you that we’re living in uncertain economic times.

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One day stocks are plummeting and home foreclosures are skyrocketing, the next day things seem to be looking up.

But whether the economy is good or bad, expenses keep rising. There’s the mortgage and the car payments to deal with and all of your other necessary expenses.

But what about the big ticket items? Something like a busted water heater often hits without warning and with the potential to blow a giant hole in your finances.

The secret for handling a big money decision isn’t to grab the credit cards. Instead, you need to anticipate these expenses, divide them into manageable pieces and make them as routine as paying the phone bill. Here’s how it works:

Define the goal. The first and biggest step is to figure out what your next big money decision will be. You may not be aware you have any, but the truth is you have several to choose from. Do you think big medical expenses could arise in the next several months? Is your car beginning to show its age?

16 Totally Awesome Gifts for Teens Under $16

Finding the perfect gift for teen boys and girls is almost impossible. Teenagers like what they like. Funny thing. I’m kinda’ the same way. So what do teens like? Here are sixteen ideas. Before you read on, make sure you have your sense of humor handy.

This Gift Guide for Teens is nothing if not a lot of fun, no matter your age. Oh, and one more thing: At writing, all of these gifts as linked to Amazon, were priced below $16. (Prices can change.)

Teen Gifts #1

1. TEEN COOK. Remember what I said about teens liking what they like? Well, they’ll only eat what they like, too. With Teens Cook, your teen can learn to cook those foods he or she likes to eat. What a concept. With more than 75 recipes for what kids like including breakfast, snacks, sides, dinners and desserts—this is the perfect cookbook to inspire young adults to take interest in their diets by giving them a tasty hobby! $12.50

2. HERE I AM T-SHIRT. I’m thinking of getting this T-shirt for myself, that’s how funny it is. Emblazoned across the wearer’s chest: Here I am! What are your other 2 wishes? This Trendy T comes in 31 colors and 9 sizes. Caution: Reviewers say it runs small, so order accordingly. And while you’re at it, go ahead and get one for yourself. Just make sure a teenager never, ever catches you wearing it. $6.74 – $15.74 (depending on size).

3. HEADPHONES. These over-the-ear stereo headphones are just perfect for teen girls. Look at that pretty lavender and white style. The lightweight design makes for excellent comfort. And they fold up, too. Compatible with any device that uses a 3.5mm output. And for the price, the sound is amazing, too. $11.78

4. DETANGLING BRUSH. Honestly, I was not aware of anything known as the Official Product of the 2014 Kid’s Choice Awards Swag Bag, but this lovely hot pink detangling brush holds that distinction. Just look how sleek and beautiful it is. And tell me, when was the last time you knew of a hairbrush to garner 568 5-star reviews? That speaks to me in a big way. Whether your teen girls has long hair or short this brush will make her very happy. Trust me on that. $15.88