DIY Holiday Gift Idea: Spa in a Jar

If you are at all familiar with a wonderful yet pricey personal care product, Salt Rub® by Origins, you may know that for some very odd reason, it has been discontinued. I know. How could they do this?

Origins now offers in its place some kind of ginger scrub concoction that contains sugar and spice. I think it is just awful, which makes me even happier that I know how to make my own version of Origins Salt Rub. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This may be the perfect gift you’ve been searching for—one you can make yourself for many on your Christmas Gift List.

A mixture of salt and oil, authentic salt rub resembles wet, slushy snow. Unlike bath salts that are used in a tub bath, salt scrub is used in the shower. So you have a better idea, before I tell you how to make it, here is the kind of instruction you would print on a tag or label for the finished salt scrub: Read more

Still the Most Perfect Homemade Holiday Gift

To me, homemade Christmas gifts are the best gifts—both to give and receive. In the past I’d begin to scramble about this time of year to come up new and unique ideas for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues.

The purpose of these gifts is to deliver my love and best wishes for the Holiday Season. And if I can weave into these messengers a small Wow! factor, well that’s a bonus.

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What always made this so challenging was my list of criteria. My homemade gifts had to be easily mass produced. They need to be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. And above all, homemade gifts must be affordable.

Several years ago, I came up with a gift idea that just nailed it. That was the year I made homemade Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract. This was such a hit it has turned into an annual tradition. No more scrambling for me.

Vanilla Exract

Each year about this time you can be sure the top cabinets in my kitchen are filling up with big glass canning jars that must be shaken every few days.

While in the past my extract-making has been limited to just one type (vanilla), this year I’m branching out to include lemon, almond, coffee and chocolate extracts. I was surprised to discover that the basic instructions for making pure extracts are about the same, regardless the flavor.

Any pure extract is a “tincture” where alcohol meant for human consumption extracts the flavor from the beans, fruits or nuts. Whether making an extract for baking, health purposes or for flavoring a beverage, it’s simply a matter of combining the food item with alcohol then giving it time to “extract” in a dark environment.

What makes an extract pure is that it has nothing added but the food item to be extracted—no corn syrup, fillers, sodium benzoate, colorings or other mystery ingredients found in most commercial flavorings and extracts—even those labeled “pure.”  Read more

Our Best Mother’s Day Gift Guide Yet!

Since Mother’s Day is two weeks away and since I have a feeling you’re as surprised by that as I am and since I’m a mom and most of you are moms or know a mom or have a mother figure in your life–I’ve taken the liberty of assuming that you might appreciate some help coming up with an awesome Mother’s Day gift!

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I wouldn’t say I am the ultimate expert when it comes to selecting perfect Mother’s Day gifts, but I know what I like and think I may not be too far off from what most moms would also enjoy. Here’s the deal: You love your mom. She’ll love these gifts. Easy as that.

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16 Favorite Things I Use (Almost) Daily

I wonder how well I’d do as a contestant on the hit TV show, Survivor. Have you seen the rules for what contestants are allowed to bring? Basically, it’s the clothes on your back, sunscreen and one luxury item. For example, a toothbrush is considered an acceptable luxury item; a hairdryer is not. Paper and pen—yes; Macbook Pro—no.

While I’m certain I could survive in my life with far fewer things than I do (I have in the past, trust me), there are things that I depend on heavily and use nearly every day—16 to be exact. These are things I love because they bring efficiency, joy and beauty to my life.

I’d need to be granted some kind of exception to allow me 16 rather than one luxury item on Survivor Island. Shouldn’t be a problem, right?

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1. SHARK NAVIGATOR. Just the most amazing vacuum cleaner known to mankind. The bonus is that it is also inexpensive. While there are many models, I love my Shark Navigator with the Liftaway option and hard floor attachment. Simply indescribably efficient.

2. DYSON HANDHELD VAC. While not exactly the one pictured (mine is now 8 years old, because they change up the look with each model, I use my Dyson handheld vac every single day, sometimes multiple times. It’s like a member of the family. Read more

23 Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Young Professionals, College Students, Moms and Dads, Too

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

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A few days ago, 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 grandparents—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, realiable suggestions. It’s not too late, but you have no time to waste. Read more

Nine of the Best Money Books for Kids and Teens

If I had a dollar for every person who has ever asked, “Why didn’t anyone ever teach me how to manage money when I was a kid?!,” I’d be a wealthy woman. If you have kids in your life age 3 and up to young adult, consider these excellent books to get those conversations started—discussions that will begin to open the doors to financial literacy.

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Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts. This book features a young boy, a pair of shoes and learning the difference between needs and wants. All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has—warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend—are worth more than the things he wants. Ages 5 to 8. About $7.

Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique, by Jane O’Connor. Fancy Nancy, a girl who enjoys turning even the most ordinary events into fabulous occasions, figures out how to earn money first then spend. Ages 4 to 7. About $12.

A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams. After the protagonist’s family loses its home in a fire, the family members decide to save coins to buy a new chair for their home. The mother is a waitress and tries to save all of the money she can to help out the family. The mother and daughter take all of the money they save it in a jar. When the jar is full they go out and buy a beautiful chair for the family to enjoy.A story of love and devotion. Ages 5 to 8. About $7. Read more

A Gift Tradition to Simplify Christmas

Awhile ago, one of my awesome readers sent along an idea that has stuck with me for many years now. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, favorite aunt or in some other way find the names of special kids on your gift list this year, I think you’ll agree that this reader’s three-gift tradition is smart, practical and especially wise.

“Drawing inspiration from the Wise Men,” she wrote, “We limit gifts to three per child. Gold starts with G so one of  is a garment gift. Frankincense starts with F so we give one fun gift. Myrrh starts with M so give a gift that is mentally stimulating. Then we round out with smaller things in the kids’ stocking.”

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I love this plan because it’s easy. Affordable. The G gifts are easiest of all. But choosing gifts the kids will love that just happen to be mentally stimulating (meaning they won’t land in the back of a  closet never to be seen again) or downright fun, can be more than a little bit challenging.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a very good kid-mindreader. And I really hate having to guess what’s hot this year, what kids are into and what they will really, really love.

In preparation for this post, I’ve been doing a lot of research, interviewing, testing and reviewing. I feel confident in making a few solid recommendations, should this gifting idea appeal to you. Here’s what I’ve come up with. Read more

Tasty Treats from Your Kitchen Make Great Gifts

Whether you have five or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list this year—don’t panic! You do not have to be crafty or know how to cook to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen.

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You’ll never go wrong giving a consumable (read: edible) gift. It does the job without contributing to your recipients’ stuff-factor.

You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. Our favorite: Clear cellophane bags online for about 6 cents each (you’ll pay a bit more for bags like these that are printed with holiday motifs). Or find similar at craft stores like Michaels, Jo-Ann Stores and Hobby Lobby, and 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! Read more