Best Creative and Inexpensive Homemade Gifts!

Whether it’s something from your kitchen, craft room, woodworking shop, or computer, there’s nothing like a homemade gift. A tree ornament, a plate of cookies, box of fudge, note cards—just a few of the many homemade gift ideas with universal appeal.

I love homemade gifts both to give and receive. No wonder I have so many favorites!


Hand and Body Lotion

A jar of your own signature luxury hand and body lotion will definitely put you on the map. It’s that good. Not particularly crafty? No worries.

If you can assemble, empty, stir and mix well, you’ve got what it takes to make dozens of these gifts start to finish in a single evening.

And the best part? About $3.50 per gift, depending on where you buy the ingredients and containers.

I have created a photo tutorial at A Homemade Gift You’d Actually Love to Receive with all of the step-by-step instructions and specifics on the ingredients and where to get them.

Believe me when I say this is the gift your recipient(s) will rave about. It’s that awesome!

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A male teacher sits supervising a group of children who are working on whiteboards and digital tablets

What Teachers Really Want for Christmas

I’ve never been a school teacher, but I’ve been a parent. I wish I’d known years ago what I know now about what teachers really want for Christmas. I would have skipped the “Teachers Have Class!” coffee mugs and gone more for the classroom supplies.

A male teacher sits supervising a group of children who are working on whiteboards and digital tablets

Recently, I contacted teachers I know, asking them how they really feel about gifts from parents and students—at Christmas and other times of the year, too. Each one of them hesitated. I could tell they didn’t want to come across as ungrateful.

Make no mistake—teachers are very grateful for the thoughts behind all of the stuff they get during the year, but particularly at Christmas.

But the stuff itself? Not so much. In fact, most gifts become a problem for that teacher. What would you do with 27 random coffee mugs or 16 bottles of cologne or aftershave of dubious origin? 

This year you can make sure that your gifts for teachers will be exactly what they really want. So listen up on these ideas for teacher gifts. And take notes. There may be a quiz.

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Multi Generation-Family-Praying-Before-Christmas-Meal

4 Things We Really Want for Christmas

Do you remember the TV show Supermarket Sweep? Contestants had several minutes to fill grocery carts with as much stuff as possible. But the winner wasn’t determined by the quantity of stuff jammed into the cart, but by the total monetary value at checkout. The contestant with the biggest tab won the game. 

The strategy is simple. Pass up the low-value stuff and load up on what’s going to pay off big at the checkout. Smart contestants had a plan of action and knew exactly where to head the minute that clock started ticking.

Portrait of friendly family reading book on Christmas evening

Christmas is like that. Once the season begins we start filling our “shopping carts.” We have lots of choices. What we choose will either pay off in terms of happiness, satisfaction, and pleasant holiday memories—or we’ll get negative results of dissatisfaction and disappointment fueled by guilt, obligation, and trying to meet others’ expectations. What we end up with when it’s all put away for another year will depend on the choices you make between now and then.

Measuring holiday value

In their book Unplug the Christmas Machine, authors Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli say that while children may be quick to tell their parents they want designer clothes, the latest electronic gear, and brand-name toys for Christmas, underneath here’s what they really want: 

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shoe repair cobbler fixing man's shoe

A Shoemaker Can Save Your Sole

To some people, a cobbler is a lovely fruit dessert, best served warm. To others, it is a shoemaker who repairs shoes—an almost forgotten trade.

The Shoe Service Institute of America reports that shoe repair shops have dwindled from 100,000 in the 1930s to 15,000 in 1997 to about 5,000 today. The industry may be facing extinction, but business is booming for the cobblers who remain.

shoe repair replacing shoe sole

According to Randy Lipson, third-generation cobbler and owner of Cobblestone Shoe Repair in St. Louis, shoe repair shops nationwide are reporting a 20 to 45 percent surge in business. Things are beginning to shift as consumers are learning to make do. And for many, that means getting shoes that fit, fixed.

Not long ago I grabbed the opportunity to sit down with Randy and I learned a lot—not only about the value of repairing rather than replacing shoes but also that a shoe repair shop does more than just repair shoes.

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350 px Gift Ideas for Kdis

2019 Holiday Gift Guide—Best Gift Ideas for KIDS!

Birth to Preschool

I have identified the following toys to be the best overall for little ones from birth to preschool. Please assess the age-appropriateness for your particular child as this can vary.

Each of these toys stimulates interaction prompting the child to engage and solve problems. All have been thoroughly tested and found to be safe—and declared to be super affordable!

1. Dump & Go Dump Truck

Child learns numbers as he or she drops a colorful rock into the top of this cheerful dump truck toy and watches it tumble into the bucket. A great early education toy for toddlers, this Vtech Dump & Go Dump Truck includes colorful buttons that play melodies plus phrases teach tools and colors. Intended for toddlers ages 6 months to 3 years old; 2 AAA batteries are included for demo; use new batteries for regular use.

2. Sassy Whimsical Wheel STEM Learning Toy

The spinning center pieces provide for visual tracking and strengthening of fine motor skills. The suction cup on the Sassy Whimsical Wheel STEM Learning Toy attaches to surfaces for frustration-free play.

3. Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker

This beautiful interactive learning baby walker has a removable play panel. An early learning center, it has 5 piano keys that play music and encourage creativity; wheels work on carpeted and hard floors. Features 2 colorful spinning rollers, 3 shape sorters, and 3 light-up buttons that develop motor skills. Pretend telephone handset and mechanical elements enhance role-play fun; 2 AA batteries are included. Over 70 sing-along songs, music, sound effects, and fun phrases. VTech Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker is meant for babies and toddlers 9 months to 3 years old.

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4. Turn and Learn Driver

Your little one will love pretending to drive using the steering wheel toy that causes the cute dog character to move back and forth. Press the 5 colorful buttons on the learning toy and your child will be introduced to different animals and vehicles; great early education toy
The fun Turn and Learn Driver encourages imaginative play with a traffic light, a signal lever that triggers fun sounds and music; gear shifter that pushes and pulls to introduce opposites
Baby driving toy Includes 3 play modes so your little toddler driver can learn in animal, driving and music mode. Makes a great gift for a 6-month to 2-year-old boy or girl; operates on 2 AA batteries that are included for demo purposes only, use new batteries for regular use.

5. Dinosaur Toys Set of 4

I just adore these dinosaurs! A great gift for preschool boys or girls. The Dinosaur Toys Playset includes four dinosaurs all on wheels. Encourages imaginative play for ages 24 months and older. So darn cute, too!

6. Lil’ Critters Moosical Beads

This musical baby toy features a variety of fabric textures for baby tactile development; cuddle up with the soft cuddly stuffed animal cow. This music toy has an easy to grasp bead ring; bead ring has light-up buttons, and a spinning square for fine motor skills development. Talking and singing stuffed toy for babies comes with 30+ playful songs, melodies, sounds and phrases; allows kids to have a musical good time. The size of the plush cow toy makes a great crib toy, or even a diaper bag toy for babies. For babies 0 to 24 months. 2 AAA batteries included for demo, use new batteries for regular use. Lil’ Critters Moosical Beads.

7. Mega Bloks Big Building Bag, 80-Piece Set

Set includes 80 building blocks for hours of play. Blocks are big and easy for little fingers to assemble. Mega Bloks Big Building Bag Encourages hands-on exploration as children imagine and create. Compatible with all Mega Bloks sets for endless building possibilities. Age 12 mos to 5 years.

8. Manhattan Toy Winkel Rattle and Sensory Teether Toy

This mesmerizing maze of safe, soft, continuous tubes is a perfect baby teething toy. Infant toy promotes clutching and two-handed play; middle cube contains a pleasing rattle sound. Multiple newborn toy award winner, including the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Blue Chip Award. Manhattan Toy Winkel Rattle and Sensory Teether Toy is safe; the teethable plastic loops are BPA free. Suitable for ages 0-24 months.

Don’t miss: How to Shop with CASH at Amazon!

Age 4 and Up

You may be familiar with Mike Rowe, the host of TV’s “Dirty Jobs” and “Somebody’s Got To Do It.” You may also be familiar with his new passion and challenge—to close the skills gap in this country, which is the reason millions of jobs in the U.S. are going unfilled. The skills gap is the chasm between millions of young people who are ready to enter the workforce and the skills they need but don’t have, to qualify for those jobs.

This fact begs the question: Who will be the electricians, mechanics, welders, plumbers and HVAC experts of tomorrow? Rowe is devoting his life to closing the skills gap by inspiring young people to learn how to do stuff, and how to do it well.

The next 8 recommended gifts for kids ages 4 through 8 or older would surely make Mike Rowe proud! These toys make taking things apart and putting them back together challenging and super fun.

They make growing a garden magical and spelling words correctly very satisfying—especially when you’re only 4 years old! But make no mistake, many of these toys will hit a bullseye with 5-to-8-year-olds, and older. It depends on the child! In fact, at least one is rated for ages 6 to 96!

9. Take Apart Toy Tool Truck

This fun and colorful electronic toy truck with tools includes 1 toy truck, 1 electric toy drill (with 2 detachable tool heads), 3 hand tools, 7 hexagonal/cross screws and nails, 1 truck driver, and 4 removable wheels. This colorful truck comes to life with front headlights, honking sounds, musical tunes (with an on/off button) and has a bump-and-go action to change directions when it hits another object or wall. Real working electric drill with interchangeable bits. So. Much. Fun!

10. LeapFrog Number Lovin’ Oven

The perfect recipe for number learning fun! From counting and cooking to serving and sharing, it’s preschool prep for little chefs—16 fun ingredients included! Easy take-and-go play—everything fits inside! Includes interactive oven, 4 pizza slices, 3 pieces of bread, 2 cupcakes, 1 fried egg, 1 skillet, 1 spatula, 1 baking tray, and 2 Plates. Nourish math learning: cut food into 2, 3 or 4 equal pieces. Delightful singing oven encourages counting, sharing, and vocabulary skills; 30+ phrases and songs. LeapFrog Number Lovin’ Oven offers a fun and interactive way to explore early number concepts including recognizing numbers, counting along and sharing. 24 months to 5 years.

11. 3-Letter Words

Learning to spell becomes fun and easy with 3 Letter Words. These colorful three letter puzzle card sets provide children with a great introduction to spelling and will help to expand their vocabulary. They learn to spell by associating the object with the word and correctly assembling the puzzle pieces. The puzzle pieces are self-correcting so only the right spelling goes together! The set includes 20 puzzle sets. Great learning toy! For ages 4 and up.

12. Enchanted Fairy Garden Craft Kit

With a little creative magic, your child can grow his or her very own enchanted fairyland. This open-ended fairy craft kit lets your child embrace his or her creative side by making a unique creation that’s all their own. It contains everything you need—just add water! Enchanted Fairy Garden Craft Kit includes an 11″ diameter flower-shaped paintable potting dish, enchanted flower house, gemstones, flowers, butterflies, paint, potting mix and seeds that grow like magic. See your child’s creative side come to life as she paints and decorates her fairy garden. Learn about botany and the life cycle of plants as your child watches their fairy garden grow! This kit includes non-toxic materials. Ages 7 to 97.

13. Sparkle N’ Grow Butterfly Terrarium

Perfect for the budding botanist, an aspiring artist or both! This kit allows you to craft, plant, water and grow your own beautiful butterfly terrarium. Comes with everything you need! Kit includes plastic mason-style jar, decorative lid, potting mix, organic chia, and wheat grass seeds, craft accessories and a plant mister to keep your terrarium watered. Make your terrarium sparkle and shine with butterfly wings, sparkling stickers, feather butterflies, flowers and more! Create your own eco-system and learn about botany and the life cycle of plants. Your habitat will begin to grow in as little as 3-4 days. Ages 6 to 96.

Listen right here to today’s really short Podcast episode … 

14. Dinosaur Take Apart Toys With Tools

Love this construction, engineering STEM learning and toy-building playset for ages 3 – 12 years. The Dinosaur Take Apart Toys With Tools set includes 6 dinosaurs, 2 t-rex dinosaurs, 2 ceratopsid dinosaurs, and 2 brontosauruses, includes a set of 4 unique tools for assembly. Includes a total of 4 screwdrivers and a pack of 6 assembled dinosaurs, which can be taken apart and reassembled. Sturdy, quality made a perfect gift for all toddlers and young kids.

15. Snap Circuits SC-300 Electronics Discovery Kit

Build over 300 exciting projects including an AM radio, burglar alarm and more. This kit contains more than 60 parts and requires 4 AA batteries, not included. Snap Circuits SC-300 Electronics Discovery Kit won The National Parenting Center-Seal of Approval. Comes with a clear and concise illustrated Manual, which is also available online. No tools required. Age 8 and up.

16. Educational Construction Engineering Building Blocks

Engineering Blocks are built to develop your child’s science, technology, engineering and math skills. Challenge your kids to build creative designs, trucks, transformers , helicopters, robots and more! This 101-Piece Educational Construction Engineering Building Blocks is designed to support a child’s creativity as he or she grows. Age 3 through 6+ years.


2019 Holiday Gift Guide—Learning Toys

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350 px Gift ideas Learning Toys

2019 Holiday Gift Guide—Best Learning Toys

Learning toys do more than sit there and entertain—they stimulate and teach kids important skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, logic, and even coding. Learning toys—open-ended games, kits, toys, and crafts—make for great Christmas gifts.

To help you get past the shock of realizing Christmas is fewer than four weeks away, here’s my list of the best learning toys. I love them because they’re fun but at the same time stimulate learning through creativity and mind-challenging play. I think the kids in your life will love them, too.


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1. Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker.  This early learning center for babies who are not yet walking is just adorable. It’s a clever toy that encourages and teaches a baby how to move from sitting to standing position and then walking, all the while encouraging interactive play. The learning walker has 70 sing-along songs onboard, sound effects, and fun phrases. Meant for babies and toddlers from 9 months to 3 years.

2. Chat and Count Smartphone. There’s some kind of magnetic attraction between babies and mobile phones. Have you noticed this? Now you can separate little ones from your phone without stifling their curiosity by giving them their own smartphone! This adorable “phone” from the folks at LeapFrog mimics the real thing with more than 15 phone activities, a music button to sing along to tunes about counting and phone manners. Skills to learn: numbers, pretend play, social interaction, and conversational skills, as well. Ages 18 months to 3 years.

3. Pretend & Play Teaching Cash Register. This working register encourages imaginative play while teaching measurements, basic math, and early money skills. Kids will easily learn currency denomination and have fun handling life-size money and this working cash register. Features a solar calculator, pretend credit card, play bills in various denominations as well as plastic coins and more. This realistic toy will give children endless hours of fun pretending, playing and developing math skills! Ages 3 and up.

4. Little Apps Tablet. This kid-size toy tablet keeps little ones busily learning for hours on end with its color-changing screen, letter buttons, and piano keyboard. Includes 12 learning activities with progressive learning levels. Thankfully, it also features volume control and automatic shut-off to conserve battery life. And if that’s not enough, check out just how adorable it is! Ages 2 years to 5 years.

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7 Ways to Use Fresh Cranberries to Make the Holidays More Beautiful

The relatively short season for fresh cranberries (October through December) is now in full swing with bags of the ruby red tart fruit available in supermarkets and grocery stores everywhere.

Fresh ripe cranberries poured out of a wicker basket on old wooden table, still life in rustic style, selective focus

Here are some cranberry fun facts: There are about 440 cranberries in one pound, 4,400 cranberries in one gallon of juice, and 440,000 cranberries in a 100-pound barrel. Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries each year. If you strung all the cranberries produced in North America last year, they would stretch from Boston to Los Angeles more than 565 times.

Cranberries are as delicious as they are nutritious, but there are other ways we can use fresh cranberries—to make the holidays even more beautiful!

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A Mishmash of Christmas Ideas and Holiday Tips

As we face the crush of holiday prep, could you possibly use some help? Try these tips and ideas on for size—clever ways to do more while spending less.

Double up

When you cook, double your favorite meals and freeze the leftovers. Then, when you’re in a frenzy the few days before Christmas, you won’t have to fret about making dinner, too.


Electronic cards

You can save a lot of time and money when you send electronic Christmas ecards. There are lots of free sites—DaySpring.com and BlueMountain.com offer the best selections.

Shop from home

Shopping online can save a lot of time, frustration and gasoline. Finding free or reduced shipping makes online shopping even better. Dec. 14, 2019 is Free Shipping Day. Check FreeShipping.com for retailers who will be participating—and to grab hundreds of coupon codes, too.

READ: How to Shop with CASH at Amazon

Get cash back

If you’ll be shopping anyway, you might as well get some of your cash back. Rakuten is by far the easiest and most efficient way to do that. A Rakuten account is completely free, easy to set up. Then every time you shop online, make sure you have your Ebates account activated (it’s so easy—you’ll see once you have an account). And you can use your Rakuten account in-store, too!

If you’re curious why I’m such a Rakuten fan, a few weeks ago I got another Rakuten check in the mail—cash back for things I would have purchased anyway, including the rental car Harold and I used on our recent New England getaway. I didn’t expect it, but I’ll take it!

The hardest part about using Rakuten? Remembering to use it! Ha. However, they do make it pretty easy to add a Rakuten button on your computer’s toolbar or the Rakuten app for your mobile device. I believe I’ll stop forgetting, now that Rakuten is putting money back in my pocket.

READ: 3 Ways to Find Extra Cash for Christmas Read more

Christmas vintage presents on a wooden background

Gift-Giving: What’s the Point?

The simple act of gift-giving has become extremely complicated. I blame that on the consumer credit industry.

Think about it: You can be completely broke but still spend thousands of dollars on Christmas gifts—and believe it is not only your right to do so but that you are obligated to do it.

The culture has created a message that we have to spend a lot on Christmas gifts to be socially acceptable.

Christmas vintage presents on a wooden background

Gift-giving is a custom that has pretty much run amok. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose to make wise and reasonable decisions about the gifts we give.

How many of you cannot recall the gifts you gave last Christmas? How about the gifts you received? Come on, let’s see those hands. Okay, that’s just about everybody.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Make Every Day Thanksgiving!

Back by popular demand, Mary’s annual Thanksgiving message … 

I love Thanksgiving so much it vies for first place in my favorite holiday lineup. I love and adore a classic Turkey Dinner with all the trimmings. I love the fall weather, which always accompanies the day. I love the fact that Thanksgiving ushers in the winter holidays, offering me a front-row seat on the very best time of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving

I love all of those things. In fact, I kinda’ wish that every day were Thanksgiving! Gratitude is too important in our lives to be considered briefly en masse on this, the fourth Thursday of November.

Giving thanks and counting our blessings is good for us. It reminds us of the positive things in life. Gratitude turns bad things into good things and reminds us to thank others.

Just imagine what might happen if our annual single-day tradition of giving thanks were to become a daily routine? Medical professionals suggest we would be rewarded with better health, as medical science reveals more about the strong connection between gratitude and good health.

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