Living Books for Every Reader on Your Gift List

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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!

 

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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Ask Me Anything: Linty Dryer Balls, Grease Relief, Fingerprints on Stainless Steel

Does this happen to you? You get so involved in doing something that you completely lose track of time? You’re shocked to look up and see it’s time to go home when it feels like you just got back from lunch. Or you sit down for a few minutes to start a new book and suddenly you’re on Chapter 21.

woman reading a book and drinking coffee

Happens to me when I open my email inbox. I can blow through four hours without ever looking up.

There is a theory floating around that smart people are more likely to lose track of time (we like that theory, right?) but also solid research to show that artists lose track of time when they are fully engaged in their artwork.

I suspect that the more often a person is fully engaged in whatever he or she is doing, the more likely that person is to lose track of time. All that to say, I really enjoy the mail I get from you, my dear readers.

Dear Mary: I have not used fabric softener for more than a year. Instead, I now use white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser of my washer and wool dryer balls in the dryer. I love everything about this new routine except some of my dark colored items are picking up white lint from the dryer balls. I have tried a sticky roller like you would use for pet hair to get this lint off my dark wool socks, without success. The only thing that works is to pick the lint off by hand. Any suggestions? Gail

Dear Gail: I know that problem—and the solution.

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Thank You Notes: Never Out of Style

In these high-tech times when text-messaging and email are the preferred method of written communication, it might not have even crossed your mind to ask this important question: Do I have to send a thank you note when someone gives me a gift?

In a word, yes. It’s right, it’s proper and it’s good for you. We may be frugal, but we’ve got class.

Thank You Notes

Some rights reserved by daBinsi

It is not difficult, nor should it be time-consuming, to write a simple, heartfelt note of thanks in response to a gift or other act of kindness. Here are the elements of a well-written thank you note:

1 Greeting. Keep it simple. “Dear Aunt Mary…” works well. Or use another salutation that would roll easily off your tongue, like “Hi,” or “Greetings.”

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A Lavish Gift Exchange

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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20 Remarkable Ways to Use Blue Dawn Outside the Kitchen

Take a look under the sink where you keep your cleaning products. See a bottle of Blue Dawn Dishwashing Liquid? Well, say “Hello” to a very versatile and surprisingly multi-purpose household product.

Beautiful, blue dawn over a lake and mountains.

Original Blue Dawn, a product of Procter & Gamble was introduced in 1972. Since then it has gone through several tweaks, changes and upgrades so that today we see a number of varieties including Dawn Ultra and Dawn Platinum, to name just a few.

My research tells me that the Ultra version is highly concentrated; Dawn Platinum contains enzymes to help break down tough, cooked on foods and that “original” refers to the scent from the original 1972 product, which is still available if you know where to look.

Does any of this matter when it comes to the amazing ways Dawn can be used so effectively outside the kitchen? Probably not. But does the color matter? I can’t prove it, but I think it does. And if it has “Ultra,” 2X or 4X on the label, it’s highly concentrated so you can use less.

Here’s the bottom line: If it’s Dawn and it’s blue, you can count on it to be an amazing product with tons of very effective if not ingenious uses!

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Gifts from My Kitchen: Bacon Jam

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, or less to taste
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup (the real deal, please)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Note 1: 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 2 : May substitute apple cider vinegar for all or part of the balsamic vinegar.

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

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.

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The Case for Quartz Countertops

In a recent post, I suggested to a reader that quartz countertops would be a good choice in her quest to find the most durable and easy-care option, because quartz doesn’t stain, doesn’t require any kind of sealant and cleans up like a dream. And, I said, quartz is cheaper than granite.

Beautiful white kitchen with gray quartz countertops

In no time, I received this email response:

I was in the kitchen and bath remodel business for over 30 years. I worked with laminate, granite, and quartz. The quartz countertops do not perform better than granite.

I had complaints all the time for staining. Also you cannot set anything hot on quartz because it leaves a ring.

One more correction you need to make is that quartz is definitely NOT cheaper than granite!! I know from experience. Mary Lou

It took only a few hours in research mode for me to realize that Mary Lou is right; I was perhaps too general in my response. Here’s what I’ve learned.

There’s quartz and then there’s quartzite. They’re often confused, but not the same. It’s important to know the difference.

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