Gifting friends, family, co-workers teachers and others with a jar of your own signature luxury hand and body lotion will definitely put you on the map. It’s that good. And what better time than this weekend to get a head start on Christmas gifts.

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.

Here’s the routine: Purchase the specific ingredients, mix them together, divide between your choice of small containers, apply a label or gift tag, embellish with a ribbon and there you go. Done and in no time flat.

To make this lovely hand and body lotion you’ll need:

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I’ve been doing some early Christmas shopping, specifically for unique but useful gadgets—stocking stuffers for the adults in my family, some who can be hard-to-buy-for.

That’s a task I usually leave until the last minute, which sends me scrambling. But not this year. I’m way ahead of the game since I found the perfect gifts—these super cool, unique and useful, pocket-size tools and gadgets.

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Leatherman Micro Tool



Leatherman Squirt PS4 Multitool, the quintessential gadget, is a mere 2-1/4 inches in length when closed, and 2 oz. in weight—pocket size! Its spring-action clip easily attaches to a key ring or backpack or slides easily into small pocket in a handbag.

With its three screwdrivers, wire cutter, scissors, knife blade, file, tweezers and bottle opener, you’ll have 9 tools powerful enough to keep you going when things fall apart. And did I say practical? This little Squirt PS4 requires only one hand to open and to use all the tools, too. Remarkable! The Leatherman Squirt PS4 Multitool is super cool, available in three colors and comes with 25-year warranty.

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If you’re stressed because you just don’t know what gift would be right for that special graduate on your list, relax.

 

 

Last year, you may recall, I asked my young friend Hannah what she and her friends would love to receive for a graduation gift. While what I hoped for was a quick verbal hint or two that would point me in the right direciton. What I didn’t expect was that Hannah would query a respectable sampling of her school’s senior class—complete with a survey, research data, and specific results!

Based on that great information, we put together a Gift Guide for Graduates. Your feedback was so enthusiastic, we felt it onky

Once again this year, Hannah and I have you covered with updated and fresh gift ideas that are sure to please both you and your favorite graduate!

And so, for your gift-giving peace of mind and inspired by Hannah’s work, we are thrilled to bring you, completely updated and we confidently offer 18 gifts that this year’s graduates really want.

 

1. Windows Laptop Computer. While the students surveyed did not indicate exactly which laptop computer would meet their needs, I have divided student laptops into two categories, with the first being a Windows-based model like this excellent ASUS ZenBook 13 Ultra-Slim Laptop. It is super well-equipped to take your grad through five years of college, at least. Highly reviewed and priced well at About $750.

Related: Best Inexpensive™ Laptop Computers for Students of 2018

2. Chromebook Laptop Computer. The second category laptop for students is a Chromebook, of which there are many options. We believe this Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA while not the cheapest Chromebook out there, is the best for the money. It works as both a laptop and notebook, flipping into either style. Super powerful with 4GB RAM and Intel core processor. Starts up in seconds and lasts all day, up to 10 hours. Weighs just 2.65 pounds. Backlit keyboard and touchscreen. A dream machine! More hereAbout $450.

Helpful: Chromebooks vs. Windows Laptops: The Real Story

3. Earphones. The world of earphones, earbuds, air pods, and every other type of in-ear-monitors has simply exploded. You can spend a buck at the Dollar Store or a thousand for a set that looks pretty much the same! The difference is the level of technology that’s powering that headset. Graduates want earphones for all kinds of applications from blocking annoying noises around them to listening to music while on a run; to gaming and listening to videos and podcasts. Panasonic Wired Earphones are amazing and will deliver in all of those needs. They come in a variety of colors and get high reviews. And how much you ask? Wait for it … About $10. Read more

Mother’s Day 2018 is right around the corner—you have about two weeks to get ready.

If this is catching you by surprise, don’t worry because I, your humble personal shopper, have come up with 24 fabulous gift ideas to help you out—gifts that are as adorable as they are affordable!

Whether your Mom is a gardener, fashionista, home decorator; a foodie in love with her Instant Pot and or a compulsive cleaner who can’t imagine life without a Eufy Stick Vac*, I believe that I’ve come up with great ideas for just about everyone.

 

One: Your coffee-loving mother is going to adore the Thermal Travel Cup, when she realizes it’s her personal pour-over brewing system in a travel mug. This unique cup lets you make, then take hot, fresh coffee wherever you go. Just pop on the stainless steel mesh filter, add ground coffee then pour over hot water to make hand drip coffee directly in the travel cup. Coffee stays hotter longer. About $25.

Two: This Mason Jar Measuring Cups Set is just the cutest set of measuring cups—useful, too! The rustic, antique, farmhouse design stacks the four measuring cups we use most often—1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup—to make a great conversation piece. Comes all dressed up in the prettiest robin’s egg blue color, too. About $16.

Three: Every kitchen needs a reliable, food thermometer and Thermopop is the best—America’s Test Kitchen says so. It’s affordable ($29 unless you buy five, then the price is $24 each right now and for a very limited time), comes in your choice of beautiful colors and can be used for any food prep from bread to meat on the grill and candy, too! Mom is sure to find Thermopop to be reliable and longer-lasting than the low-functioning models she keeps buying that simply do not perform well. Reg. $29.

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Friends. This is Friday. Valentine’s Day is Wednesday. I know, I can’t believe it either. Before you start to stress, let’s get a plan together.

The way I see it, you have four options:

  1. Ignore the day altogether and assume your spouse, kids, grandkids, friends, family, and co-workers, will think you forgot and give you a pass.
  2. Get thee to the card shop and post office to pick up Valentine’s cards and plenty of postage stamps, then get them in the mail, pronto!
  3. Make sweet treats in your kitchen befitting the day.
  4. Find that perfect little something for those perfect someones in your life—there is still plenty of time.

Should you be leaning toward option #4, here are 21 great gift ideas sure to please that can be delivered on time and, won’t break the bank:

 

GIFTS FOR KIDS

1. Happy Valentine’s Day Blank Sketchbook. Kids of all ages love to doodle and draw. Here’s a fun sketchpad that will let them keep their creations together in a safe place.

2. Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink. Love to hear your young readers giggle? Whether they read it themselves or you read it to them, this cute story about Gilbert, a fuzzy-looking woodland creature who comes up with “nice” rhymes for his classmates will bring out the laughter while teaching about kindness and forgiveness.

3. Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime. Hurray! February 14—Valentime’s Day, as June B. calls it—is just around the corner. Junie B. can’t wait to see all the valentimes she’ll get. But she never expected a big, mushy mystery! Adorable story.

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Even if you still have 5 or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list—don’t panic! You still have time. And don’t worry: You do not need a lot of money nor must you the gift of craftiness to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen. Yes, even at this late date.

You’ll never go wrong giving a gift that is meant to be eaten or used up. That kind of gift does its job to convey your love and best wishes without increasing the recipients’ stuff-factor.

 Photo Credit: TasteofHome.com 

You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. My favorite: Clear cellophane bags for 10 to 15 cents each (some are printed with holiday motifs). Find these at craft stores like Michaels, JoAnn’s and Hobby Lobby; at cake and candy supply stores. Think assembly line and you can turn out dozens of gifts in a single day. So gather your supplies, set up your production line and let the fun begin!

Santa Claus Cookies

  • 1 package Nutter Butter (or Vienna Fingers) sandwich cookies
  • 12-oz. white chocolate wafers or chips*
  • Red sprinkles or red-colored sugar
  • 32 vanilla or white chips, not melted
  • 64 mini chocolate baking chips
  • 32 red-hot candies

Melt the white chocolate. Dip one end of each cookie into melted chocolate. Place on wire racks. Quickly sprinkle red sugar on top part of chocolate. Press one vanilla chip off-center on hat for pom-pom; let stand until set.

Dip other end of each cookie into chocolate for beard, leaving center of cookie uncovered. Place on wire racks. With a dab of melted chocolate, attach semisweet chips for eyes and a red-hot for nose in the uncovered area. Place on waxed paper to set. Yield: 32 cookies. Read more

What are “living books?” They’re books that are so exciting, their content comes to life in an exciting and engaging way. They are well-written, offering more to the reader than meaningless fluff.

Living books teach about life, character and the human spirit. Even when addressing an academic concept, living books do it in a fun and engaging way. Living books are the complete opposite of dry, boring textbooks!

Two little blond sibling boys reading a book together in bed near Christmas tree.

Could there be a better gift idea than an exciting living book? I think not, especially in these times when electronic devices—texting, social media, and general cybersurfing—seem to be dominating so much time and attention in an attempt to capture the minds of even the youngest among us.

A living book just might be the gift solution you’ve been searching for. Consider the following as my attempt at creating a list of examples—some of the best living books from which to choose, arranged according to age and reading level.

The term “living book” is not a category or subject you’re likely to find in any bookstore—physical or online. It’s a term that has been coined in the world of homeschoolers. I think it’s a good one!

You will see Amazon links in the post below. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Read more here.

 

YOUNG READERS

Level 1: Shared Reading

Short sentences, familiar words, and simple concepts for children eager to read on their own. Generally Kindergarten – 1st Grade.

A List of Books for Every Reading Level and Interest because great books make great gifts!

SAMMY THE SEAL, by Syd Hoff. Sammy, the adventurous seal, leaves the zoo for the day and ventures into the big, busy city. Along the way he finds a school full of kids and new things to do—and he even learns to read!

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When the holiday season arrives, the best gifts just might be from your kitchen. And when those gifts are extra decadent, well that just makes them even better.

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A couple of years ago I got the crazy idea to take my homemade gifts of food beyond cookies, cakes and pure vanilla extract to bacon. Seriously. More specifically Bacon Jam.

Yes! And I have to say that with all the challenges you’ll discover as you read to the end, Bacon Jam is quite possibly the best holiday gift ever. I say that because it’s what local friends and family clamor for.

Bacon Jam

  • 1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces (note 1)
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (note 2)
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar, more or less to taste
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup (the real deal, please)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Note 1: Ignore the molasses in the photo.

Note 2: I’ve tested substituting bacon crumbles for bacon and wasn’t thrilled with the result. Your results may vary, which means crumbles are certainly an option.

Note 3: May substitute apple cider vinegar for all or part of the balsamic vinegar, which is what I do now after considering my own taste and feedback from my recipients. However, either will give you great results.

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The first step is to cut the bacon crosswise into one-inch pieces and cook them in a large skillet, stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered and the bacon is lightly browned about 20 minutes.

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