Seasonal scented candles for the "others" on your list

A sweet holiday gesture for coworkers, teachers and other important people you don't know well.

I love Christmas, not just for the gorgeously adorned Christmas trees, cheery music and pretty twinkle lights, but for the scents of the season as well. Fragrances are as important to the ambiance of a holiday home as the décor. In fact, it's music and aromas people recall first when casting their memories back to childhood holidays. When I hear Elvis singing Blue Christmas, I immediately think of the way my mom's house smelled when she was baking apple pies for parties and get-togethers. Happy times.

When I'm shopping for family and close friends, I take great pride in choosing gifts very carefully to fit each and every one. I may spend weeks scanning stores, fliers and various sites online before finding the perfect thing for each person. To me, it's a ton of fun, and makes Christmas gift exchanges much more special.

Then there are the “others” on my list. People who fall under the “others” category are the folks who I don't know very well personally, but have to buy for nonetheless. You know the ones: teachers, bus drivers, the Secret Santa person at the office and, of course, the random neighbor hosting this year's Christmas party.

For the “others” I like to go with a simple theme: fall and winter scented candles. I tend to stay away from holiday decorations, because their use is limited to a couple weeks, or even days, after their received, and where's the fun in that? Seasonal candles, however, are appropriate for months to come.

Plus, there are so many different scents that you don't have to get carbon copy gifts for everyone unless you want to. For example, my son has multiple teachers and a speech specialist he sees at school. Instead of giving them all different items, I choose different scents. Then I let him put them in simple bags and mark each one with a name. Easy peasy.

Plus, fall and winter scented candles are much less gender specific than other seasons' fragrances. I would never give my sons' male bus driver a Sweet Pea scented candle, but I wouldn't think twice if it smelled like oven-fresh Pumpkin Pie.

Finally, at the very least, if the fragrance isn't a big hit with the recipient, candles are beautifully re-giftable. I know that's taboo to encourage, but it's true. It's sure to be a gift that somebody will love for sure. And what's the difference between getting someone a gift card he ultimately uses to buy holiday gifts and having him pass on a candle he won't enjoy. Money saved is always a gift, right?

When someone says, “I don't know what to get _____,” I always suggest buying seasonal candles. They're generally a good fit for anyone and the variety of fragrances available allows some wiggle room to give lots of folks similar items without wasting lots of time and money to change it up.

Thinking beyond traditional homemade gifts

As budgets get tighter, giving homemade gifts for Christmas has become more popular. With Pinterest peaking in popularity this year, the trend is only likely to continue. However, homemade gifts, especially in the form of baked goods and candies are not always welcome.

When giving homemade gifts, think beyond the traditional cookies, fudge, Chex mix and homemade hot cocoa. These gifts often do not last and many people end up guiltily throwing them away after filling themselves on all of their other holiday favorites. Instead of making something perishable, think about doing something different. If you plan in advance, can vegetables from your summer garden or make homemade pickles or salsa to give as a gift. If that’s not an option, make a special baked goods mix, sauce or special dry mix.

Homemade gifts do not have to be edible either. Instead of making food, try making a homemade ornament and personalizing it with the name of the recipient, make a special holiday sign or handwrite a special quote or poem and put it in a frame. These gifts may be appreciated more than food because they offer a more personalized feel.

Whatever you give, keep the person you’re giving a gift to in mind. People who barely know you may not appreciate a homemade gift, especially if it’s food, as much as those close to you. You may also want to switch up what you give, opting to make a few different homemade items to show that some thought went into your gift-giving.

Holiday Gifts for Preschool Teachers

Since I was younger, I remember my mother shopping for holiday gifts. These gifts typically included my teachers, mailman, hair dresser and anyone else that had constant contact with our family. They may not have been very big gifts but they weren’t certainly enough to say thank you and recognize what it is you do for us.

While, my pocket doesn’t cooperate enough to give to my mailman or hair dresser, I do like to put something together for my daughter’s preschool teacher. Keep in mind, many school are stopping this from happening these days. Be sure that your teacher is allowed to accept small gifts or tokens of appreciation from students prior to giving. This will help eliminate your teacher from having to turn your child away at the time the gift is to be given. All feelings can be spared this way.

Hoping for the best and your child decides to give a holiday gift to their teacher, there are so many options.  Here are a few:

Coffee mugs


Photo frames

Handmade cards

Teaching supplies

Pending school rules, baked or homemade goods are always a pleasure too.

Teachers are not hard to please. Generally, the fact that you thought about them is enough. Don’t panic, small tokens are not about breaking your budget. Simple gifts can be thrifty and fun, all-the-while pleasing the recipient.  Let your child be a part of the gift selection for her teacher. This will give her a sense of accomplishment, as well. Her teacher is sure to love it too.


DIY Gift Wrapping

Skip the premade paper and do it yourself this season
Let's be honest, here: no one likes to receive gifts wrapped in tacky Santa paper. I mean, no one. We know it's Christmas already; the iconography has been everywhere for months, assaulting our corneas without shame. If you're the type who gives carefully selected (or perhaps even handmade) gifts, make sure you complete the thought with some off the beaten path wrapping jobs this season. 
One of the best DIY wrapping jobs I've seen on the internet so far comes from Chris over at ManMade. He started his project with basic brown packing paper, but accentuated it with hand-cut typography stencils, carving the names of his friends and family out of the pages of old books and then gluing them onto the paper. It looks nice and also solves the problem of getting wrapped gifts mixed up with each other.
Another DIY wrapping idea blends different textures together for an all-around aesthetically pleasing gift package. Take some solid color paper and some textured paper that match--the latter could be anything from mesh to lace to newsprint. Wrap the gift in the textured paper first, then cut out shapes in the solid paper (names or snowflakes or whatever design you like) and wrap it around that. The holes in the outer, solid paper will be filled in by whatever you've got underneath for a neat extra dimension to your present's aesthetic. If you'd like to go the extra mile, maybe pick up some colored cellophane for inclusion in your multi-dimensional creation. Whether it's the base layer or an extra sheen on top of the two layers you've already got, it'll add a lot of snazz.
I'm also fond of the idea of just creating your own paper from whatever you've got lying around. Got some old newspapers and a bottle of ink? Go nuts creating your own abstractions--just let the ink and a little gravity do the work and you'll get some funky abstract textures with minimal effort required. You can also recycle old books you don't want anymore this way. I've found that old instruction manuals with lots of illustrations work well as wrapping paper right off the bat--just cut them up and tape them back together to form interesting patterns. 
The receivers of the gifts you give this season will definitely appreciate the extra mile to make their treats look nice. And during a season that's all about rampant purchasing, it's always nice to cut back and produce something yourself for a change.

How to Choose the Perfect Christmas Gift Basket

Gift baskets make great gifts at Christmas and other holiday occasions as long as you pick the right type for the person you're buying them for. Some don't like receiving gift baskets as presents but I think it largely has to do the fact that the individual opened his or her gift only to find that the basket contained items that they didn't like. I love gift baskets but I know I wouldn't like getting one filled with coconut candy and an overly sweet tasting wine because I don't enjoy them. I would, however, love unwrapping a gift basket that contained a Merlot and Godiva chocolate truffles.

The key to winning someone over with a gift basket is to purchase or put together one that contains gifts you know the person you plan on giving the present to will like. For example, lets say that someone you know enjoys tea. You could either purchase the tea and basket separately to make your own or you could order a gift basket that contains a variety of different flavors. You can go even further and purchase all decaffeinated teas if you know the individual is partial to teas that don't have caffeine in them. Put together a basket filled with camomile tea If the gift recipient loves that particular flavor over any other.


Do a bit of reconnaissance work to find out if the individual you plan to purchase the gift for is allergic or unable to eat or drink something for a medical reason. For example, even though a diabetic may enjoy a gift basket full of sugared candy or muffins filled with carbohydrates it may not be in his best interests to receive this type of gift basket. Perhaps he likes fishing and you could make a basket that contains the small items needed for fishing. The goal with gift baskets, as with any other gift, is to pick one that best suits the individual who will receive it.



Must-Make Holiday Gifts for Grandparents

If you have both children and grandparents in your life, you know that the holiday is not complete until crafts by the former have been made for the latter! Every year we make different crafts for our daughter’s grandparents, and every year they really love them. A good rule of thumb: if it has a photo of your child or his or her thumb print on the craft, it will probably be loved! And if the child made it, all the better. Here are a few ideas for this holiday…
  • A photo of your child/children with Santa in a frame he or she made. Using popsicle sticks is a great way to do this, though anything from construction paper to craft foam will work, too. We paint our popsicle sticks red and green, decorate them with stickers or sequins, then pop the picture in. We also add some string or yarn for hanging.
  • A homemade reindeer out of your child’s handprints and footprint. This is super cute: just have your child step in some brown paint and carefully make a footprint on some paper, cardstock, or a canvass panel. Next, dip his or her hands into black paint and have them make antlers (see photo). Add some googley eyes and a red pom pom for a nose and boom, you have a Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer made from handprints! As with any other project, be sure to add the date—and if you have multiple children, make sure their names are on their art pieces as well.
  • Make a homemade Christmas tree by gluing varying lengths of cut popsicle sticks across one single vertical stick, painting it, and adding sequins for ornaments.
  • Make a handprint Santa by painting a Santa Claus together, then using your child’s handprint in white paint as his beard. Be sure to do this on red or another color of paper so it will show up—or outline it with a marker.
  • Make one of these cute sleds. That’s what we did for this year’s ornament! For something simple and last minute, you could also make a candy cane ornament by twisting a red pipe cleaner and a white pipe cleaner together, then bending them into the shape of the candy cane. It literally takes minutes!
  • Bake ornaments. These are some of our favorites! Some families have recipes for gingerbread people or other treats you can hang on the tree. One of our favorites is to slice an orange (leaving the peel on), sprinkling them with cinnamon, baking them for a few minutes, and then threading a piece of embroidery thread through them to hang them with. They may only smell good for one season, but they will be pretty enough for next year too!

The Best Gifts For the New Mom, Dad and Baby in Your Life

Holiday Gifts Will Warm the Heart of any Young Family

My husband and I are experiencing our first holiday season with our 8-month old baby. We know of at least two other couples who will celebrate Christmas with a baby under one years old. I realized, as I thought about this tidbit, that I needed to alter my gift giving a bit to accommodate the families with their new bundle of joy. Awesome gift ideas for new parents include those that save time, offer support, light up their holiday with happiness and give the couple a chance to go out on their own. The gift giving exchange doesn't end with mom and dad, the baby will enjoy his or her own presents as well.

The first trick to figuring out which gifts to purchase is to decide if you want to give the couple a present that they can use together or if you want to buy one for each of them. Good choices for individual gifts include unique and thoughtful purchases. Buy a baby safe necklace for the mom who enjoys jewelry. Teething necklaces are available for purchase on and Take the new dad out with the guys to watch a game on a big screen TV. He will forever remember that you gave him a chance to get out. Moms will also love the opportunity to get spoiled by getting their nails done or going out to have their hair done at a salon.

Babies may not yet understand the magic of Christmas but that doesn't mean they won't enjoy receiving cute presents. Babies from the newborn stage to three months will like small rattles and soft stuffed animals. I know our little one enjoyed a doll that my husband's sister got her. She also liked a monkey snuggle toy that my parents bought her from K-Mart. From three to nine months she enjoyed the light up toys such as a VTech car, light up phone or laptop. Skip Hop Build-A-Barn Blocks are perfect for the active older babies who enjoys picking up, stacking and knocking down blocks. The toy is available at and 

Alternative Giving Fairs

Buy something different this holiday season.

As much as mom claims to love the ornaments you make her and as much as dad gushes about those socks you buy him, why not get them something different this year? It’s easy to do. You can purchase an alternative gift, instead, which supports various charities around the world.

Alternative Giving Fairs are common around the country. The tangible gifts come from an organization called A Greater Gift. Attendees can purchase alternative gifts, which are donations to charity organizations in honor of family or friends, as well as unique gifts made by people of developing countries. Alternative gifts come from an organization which promotes various charities called Alternative Gifts International.

Attendees who donate money to an alternative gift cause receive a sheet about the charity that made them. Tangible gifts for sale include tapestries, jewelry, and mugs. 90% of the cost of these tangible gifts goes back to the people who made them.

Some of the causes I've seen at these fairs include “Bikes for Women and Girls” (Tanzania and Namibia). This cause gives bikes to women and girls so they can more easily do required household chores, leaving more time for them to pursue education. “Gorilla Protection” (Rwanda) raises money to hire patrol workers to prevent poaching of African gorillas, whose numbers have declined 70% in the last ten years. “Scholarships for Children Attending Comforti School” (Sierra Leone), “Teens with AIDS” (Uganda), and “Scholarships for Nomadic Children” (Kenya) are other charities I have supported in the past.

These fairs don't seem particularly difficult to design. Usually, they just require a few tables and perhaps some live music and food. The alternative gift fairs I attended were at my university, and generally clubs were invited to support charities that held similar missions to those of their clubs.

I've purchased alternative gifts for my family for the past few years. Typically, the paper sheets that you receive when you purchase something are quite personal. For example, a card may say that the $10 you spent will be used to purchase a chicken for a family in Uganda. The fairs that I went to also gave out nicely-constructed holiday cards with a picture from one of the charities on the front. Put the paper sheet inside the card, and you've pretty much finished your Christmas shopping for a relative or friend.

While I expected people to be put-off by not receiving a tangible gift, all of my relatives have really enjoyed this tradition. Have you ever purchased anything from an alternative gift fair?

The Habits of Black Friday Holiday Shoppers

Are you a Black Friday Shopper?

Too many social scientists have too much time on their hands as is demonstrated by the sheer volume of meaningless studies pumped out of ivory towers each year. The latest such study that I saw investigated the motivations behind shoppers’ fascination with Black Friday. Social scientists aren’t the only ones with a vested interest in why shoppers shop on certain days, the American Retailers Association also has collected a considerable amount of research on the shopping habits of those who favor doing their holiday shopping on Black Friday. 

Here are some facts, observations, and tidbits about Black Friday shoppers:


  1. Most Black Friday shoppers are women. 
  2. Most Black Friday shoppers actually like shopping in the crowds. This is supply-side economics. The scarcity of goods at rock-bottom prices actually seems to engender a sense of competition in the Black Friday shoppers.
  3. The Black Friday shoppers who pushed and shoved the most in the stores were actually the shoppers who did the most shopping planning before actually hitting the malls and other retail outlets. Some of them even “grab stuff from other people’s carts.”
  4. Black Friday shoppers tend to experience the same sort of adrenaline rushes as hunters. The quest for goods becomes almost like a competitive sport of some sort for the women who enjoy Black Friday shopping.
  5. Black Friday shoppers stay with their tribes when shopping. If Black Friday shopping is indeed like a competitive sport, it is like a competitive team sport. Most end up going shopping with their friends or family members and plan the outing together as a special occasion. 


Does all of this make you want to go Black Friday shopping this holiday season? 


Any doubts that I may have had about hitting the malls on Black Friday have increased by a thousand fold after learning about the other shoppers. Imagining the reality of facing half-crazed shoppers fighting over an electronics device at Target scares me more than you can imagine. I already witnessed some of the holiday cheer this year when I went on a wreath-making adventure and had my juniper berries stolen by a competitive wreather. 


I might save my Black Friday shopping for an online experience. I might get a few rushes when I’m shopping online, but at least I won’t get physically pushed away from my computer.