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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The year was 1859 and Charles Dickens starts his classic A Tale of Two Cities with,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ….

As I read this passage it makes me wonder: Was Dickens referring to life in 1859 or looking into the future to December 2017?

 

With this year’s devastating hurricanes, epic fires, horrific shootings and—just this past week—tragic train wreck so fresh in our memories, many are wondering about Christmas. Where, among all this, is our peace on earth and goodwill toward man? This feels like Dickens’ season of darkness, our winter of despair.

Recently, I heard the story of one of America’s most beloved poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1861, his wife Fanny was fatally burned in an accident, but only after Longfellow attempted to save her and was severely burned himself. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral.

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, Read more

Most of us, when we think of the cost of Christmas, think gifts. But there are so many other expenses like travel, entertainment, decorations and mailing costs. And parties!

How can we be warm and generous hosts without breaking the bank? That the question today’s first reader asks.

Beautiful buffet set for Christmas

Dear Mary: This year it’s my turn to throw the family Christmas party. Last Christmas, my sister-in-law created a tough act to follow by having her party catered with expensive hors-d’oeuvres and top-shelf champagne. I can’t afford catering, but I want to put on a spread that’s as impressive as hers. How do I accomplish that without going into debt in the process? Natasha

Dear Natasha: Trying to upstage your sister-in-law puts you in a no-win situation. Turn your thoughts instead to making this your party—a special gift of your love to your family, not a competition to see who spent the most money.

Once you determine how much cash you have to spend, go online. Check out websites like FoodNetwork.com, RecipeTinEats.com, Epicurious.com, AllRecipes.com, and BarefootContessa.com. Do a Google search, typing in Top Recipe Websites or Top Recipe Blogs in the search bar. You will be amazed at the results. Pay particular attention to websites and recipes devoted to holiday fare, particularly hors-d’oeuvres. Read more

Here’s a great way to let your children experience the joy of giving to others who may not be as fortunate this Christmas. Help them go through their toys, picking out those that are still in great shape, but they’ve outgrown.

Then let the kids go with you to donate the toys to a shelter or other charitable organization in your community that will be grateful to accept them.

Boy taking donation box full with stuff to donate

While you’re at it, consider you have only a few more weeks to make other tax-qualified donations. Even though you will have until April 2018 to file for Tax Year 2017, midnight on Dec. 31, 2017, is the deadline to actually make qualified donations. (Be sure to get a receipt).

Your bonus for donating to tax-qualified charities could be a reduction in the tax you owe or a nice increase in your refund check.

Figuring out the allowable market-value of your items can be tricky. If you value them at less than the IRS will allow, you could be leaving money on the table. But if you err on the side of valuing too high, you could be setting yourself up for a tax audit and no one wants an IRS tax audit! The solution is to use a valuation guide that is not only reliable but certified.

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When our boys were only toddlers, we and our best friends, who have three children just about the same ages as our boys, decided that we would have a Family Christmas Party early in December. We called it that even though the two families were not technically related. We invited two sets of grandparents and one other older couple as well.

large family handing gifts to each other during a christmas dinner

Our common bond? Five adorable kids and all the grown-ups who love them. Everyone dressed up and the children performed their current talent. We had such a great time that we decided to make this Family Christmas Party an annual event.

That first year there were a few gifts—mostly small things for the children. But somehow over the years, the gifts grew in both quantity and quality. By the time this event passed the thirty-five-year mark, four of the five babies were married with babies of their own. Lots of kids!  Two grandparents had died causing the family dynamic to change tremendously. But still the Family Christmas Party went on. And every year the problem would arise: What to do about gifts?

I give you this background so you can fully appreciate what happened that one year.

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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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Gift-giving is surely on everyone’s mind as we head into the final weeks before Christmas. Giving gifts is a wonderful holiday tradition—one in which I participate fully because it brings me so much joy.

Three generations family opening Christmas Gifts and New Puppy!

Recently, I opened my email box to find a really nice message from a reader looking for help with gift suggestions for her husband’s administrative staff—a group of sharp, young professionals both male and female. He wants to acknowledge each with an appropriate gift—something that won’t be so dorky it shows up in next spring’s garage sale or worse, the trash. And he also wants to stay away from any gift that could be seen as too personal. His budget it about $30 per gift.

I accepted the challenge and went right to work, contacting several of the sharpest, smartest young professionals I know, asking for their opinions, suggestions and help. Together we came up with suggestions of gifts that each of them would thoroughly enjoy receiving from a supervisor, boss—or anyone, for that matter.

While I was in gift-guide mode, it dawned on me that over the past weeks, we’ve hit on gifts for kids, teens and even gifts baskets. But what about moms and dads? Read on and you’ll see we’ve got that covered there, too, just in case you’re behind the eight ball and need quick, reliable suggestions. It’s not too late, but you have no time to waste. Read more

Gift baskets are a terrific gift solution for an individual on your gift list, or for an entire family. The first step is to pick an appropriate theme tailored to the recipient(s). While packing the contents of your gift basket into a real basket is traditional, consider any appropriate container like an attractive bucket, bowl or box.

You can spend as little or as much as you like filling the basket. The possibilities are endless. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Beautiful Christmas gift basket filled with edibles

Movie Night Basket. Fill a large bowl or basket with family appropriate DVDs, iTunes Gift Card, microwave popcorn, theater-sized boxes of candy and bottles of soda.

Party of Two Basket. Boxes of dry pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce, (homemade would be nice), Parmesan cheese, breadsticks, candlesticks and CD of classical Italian music.

Christmas in a Box. Especially thoughtful for someone living alone, send along a tabletop tree, a string of garland, a tree topper, lights and a box of ornaments. Include a CD of Christmas carols to be played while decorating the tree.

Bookworm Basket. Fill a basket with a few books, a coffee mug, packets of hot chocolate, instant coffee or tea, a tin of cookies and a pillow.

Letter Writer’s Basket. Assorted greeting cards, postcards, stationery, postage stamps, pens, pencils, return address labels.

Gift Wrap Basket. Curling ribbon, wrapping paper, gift enclosure cards, an assortment of gift bags, transparent tape, scissors, gift bags, tissue.

Coffee-Lover Basket. Coffee (beans or ground), coffee mugs (love these initial mugs), to-go coffee cups with lids, sugar creamer stir sticks, homemade sweet treat (like Biscoff Cookies).

Snow Day Survival Kit. Hot chocolate mix, mini-marshmallows, Sugar Cookie Mix, cookie cutter(s) plus, board game, puzzle and or deck of cards, kids’ book like the classic, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

Ice Cream Party Basket. Fill a basket with ice cream supplies including sprinkles, waffle cones, a new ice cream scoop; toppings like hot fudge and salted caramel sauce, a can of whipped cream, a jar of maraschino cherries, a big bottle of root beer, plastic spoons and straws.

Related: Gift Baskets for the Tremendous Cooks on Your Gift List

Golfer Basket. Fill a basket with golf tees, golf balls, a small towel, subscription to Golf Magazine with a copy of the current issue, a new visor or hat or gift card for favorite Pro Shop.

Gardener Basket. A selection of hand gardening tools, seed packets, great pair of gloves, wide brim sun hat.


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