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Alternative Gift Giving

We all know about the stereotypical Christmas morning - a big glittering tree with presents pouring out from underneath. That is what I could not wait to see every Christmas morning when I was a kid. But as I have gotten older I have enjoyed the act of giving, and the time with family more than the presents. For some people, though, it just does not feel like Christmas without some kind of gift exchange. Which brings me to the topic of alternative gift giving ideas. 


Secret Santa

You are probably more than familiar with this concept. A bunch of names go in a hat then everyone who wants to participate picks a name and then gets a gift (usually of a specified dollar amount) for that person. I worked in an office that did this for Christmas (although it was called "Secret Salmon" to make it non-denominational). A way to make the typical secret santa exchange a bit more fun is to really keep it a secret - don't let the recipient know who the gift giver was. Keeping the santas secret can help alleviate some of the stress that might come from giving a gift to someone you don't know very well.





White Elephant

In the white elephant gift exchanges I have been to, I have been asked to bring a white elephant present that cost no more than a certain dollar amount. When the exchange begins one person opens a random gift. Then the next person gets to go, and that person can, depending on the rules in use, either "steal" the gift that is already open, or open a new gift. If a gift is "stolen" then the person who was stolen from gets to open a new gift. Some people put limits on the number of times any particular item can be stolen. In my experience it is best to pick names from a hat, or something like that, to determine the order of opening the gifts. But I have seen this kind of game go a little awry - feelings can get hurt.


Favorite Things Exchange

I have never been to a party like this, but I have heard of them, and I think it sounds like fun. Its kind of like a white elephant exchange in that a lot of money does not have to be spent, and that you are not buying a gift for any specific person. The way this type of exchange works is that you ask each guest to bring multiples of their favorite thing - usually a dollar cap is used. So you might be asked to bring five of your favorite thing under $5. Then everyone else at the party will bring five of their favorite things under $5. And then you get to kind of shop around and leave the party with 5 fun new things (think chapstick, magazines, makeup, candy, food, even wine!). You could also set a lower dollar cap and ask your guests to bring one of their favorite things for every guest (for example if you have 10 people coming to a party, you might ask your guests to bring 10 of their favorite things under $2 or $3, then everyone gets to try 10 new things). Anyway, I bet you can tell that I think this is a fun twist on traditional gift giving. The focus is more social and less on the cost of the things.

Something You Want, Need, Wear, Read

This is another type of gifting that I have seen circulating the internet. For family members, to limit the gluttony of gifting, you can decide to give people four things:

Something they want,

Something they need,

Something to wear, and 

Something to read.


I think this is a really nice way to cut down on spending and re-focus on spending time with family and enjoying the Christmas season.

10 Great Gift Ideas for Women

I think women are a lot easier to shop for, but that probably stems from the fact that I am a woman. Also, as I mentioned in the men's gift ideas post, I think the fact that women will buy pretty things for themselves makes it easier for friends and family to get a sense of what they like, and therefore what to gift them.


Anyway, here is a selection of gifts that I think would make thoughtful, creative presents for any women in your life.

Breakfast in Bed

Who does not like breakfast in bed? If I can have bacon and coffee brought to me in bed, I know its going to be a good day. So why not give a coupon redeemable for breakfast in bed? I think going to bed and knowing that I will get to eat breakfast in bed the next morning would be a great present!


Ice Cream Maker Gift Set

For $99 you can give this great Ice Cream Maker Gift Set from Williams-Sonoma, that comes with everything you need to make some great, homemade ice cream. It sounds like even the culinarily challenged could make ice cream with this maker - and maybe if you are lucky you will get invited over for some!


Magnolia Tree

If you know someone who loves the great outdoors, then this ready-to-plant magnolia tree might make a great gift. For $49 you can get this living magnolia tree, complete with care and planting instructions. Magnolia blossoms smell great, so why not give the gift that keeps on giving? Available from Gumps.



Colorful Alpaca Scarf

This beautiful scarf is made from Alpaca wool, and is hand-made in La Paz Bolivia. A beautiful scarf can be both a fashionable and practical. For $39 from National Geographic, this scarf is really a steal.



Cashmere Tech Gloves

These gloves bring together the best of both worlds - pampering and function! I have yet to meet a woman who does not love cashmere - and what better place to wear such a soft fabric than on your hands? And these gloves don't need to be taken off to use a smartphone or touch-screen. Perfect! All for only $49 from Frontgate.com.


Snuggly Nap Throw Blanket with Foot Pocket

Christmastime is a great time to cuddle up on the couch. Pretty much every time I get on the couch this time of year I reach for one of a couple of blankets that are close by. What makes this blanket so special, other than its softness, is the built in foot-pocket! How genius is that? I hate having cold feet, and love having my feet tucked in - its like this blanket read my mind! Its only $49.99 from Brookstone.


Monogrammed Zipper Pouch

These little monogrammed zipper pouches from Pottery Barn are cute, personalized, and are inexpensive enough at $16 that you might even consider putting another little something (jewelry?) inside.

Craft Class

If you have a lady in your life that likes to craft or bake, then you might consider looking into craft classes offered at local craft stores. The big craft stores around here, like Michael's and Jo-Ann Fabrics offer classes in everything from faux-floral arrangement to cake decorating to basic sewing. Smaller mom-and-pop craft and fabric stores sometimes offer classes too, so why not give the gift of crafting?


Laquer Jewelry Boxes

These fun, bright jewelry boxes from West Elm would make a bright addition to any woman's closet. And at only $24, you might consider putting a little something sparkly inside to add to the surprise!



Chrysanthemum Vase

This vase from Anthropologie is beautiful all on its own - complete with its own flower! I think the colors - aqua and coral - are a nice twist on the standard Christmas colors, and will look great year-round. Since the vase is only $28, maybe you can get a nice bouquet of flowers to go in it?




I hope these gift ideas got your brain going - Christmas is only two weeks away!

10 Great Gift Ideas for Men

Men can be really hard to shop for. I think the difficulty arises from the fact that most men don't shop for themselves for fun, so its hard to know what they might like. To help you out, I have put together a list of 10 fun gift ideas that I think men might like this year. I tried to make a varied list, so there should be something here for everyone:


Cards Against Humanity

Cards Against Humanity is a card game that has been popular for a few years now, but is still a fun party game. The game is played like Apples to Apples, but is intended for adults. Its a really, really fun game. You can download a PDF and print the cards for free (free!) or you can buy a pre-printed boxed set of cards for $25. If you know someone who already has a set, they also sell expansion packs now, too.

A Sweet Pair of Headphones

Earbud-style headphones are still popular, but if you know someone who spends a lot of time listening to music, a nice pair of over-ear headphones might make a great gift. There are tons of headphones on the market now. I would check out Amazon.com and BestBuy.com to see which ones get good reviews and are on sale. This pair looks nice, gets good reviews, and is almost 50% off on Amazon.com:


Customized Converse Sneakers

Do you have a man in your life that loves his Converse sneakers? I know I do. Converse now offers the ability to customize a pair of sneakers online. You could try your hand at custom-designing a pair for your man, or you can get him a gift certificate so he can make his own dream pair of sneakers. All for about $75!


Home Brew Kit

For $40 you can get one of these home brew kits that contains everything your guy would need (ok, other than a stove and water) to make his own brew! The Brooklyn Brew Shop offers a great variety of kits - everything from "Warrior Double IPA" to "Grapefruit Honey Ale". Check them out!


Homemade Favorite Meal Coupon

Let's not forget that not everything that you give this year has to come from a store. A fun idea for a free gift is a coupon allowing the redeemer to have his favorite meal made for him.  There is so much eating and rich foods during the holidays, so why not spread the love from the kitchen into the new year?

Customized Stainless-Steel Steak Knife Set with Box

Know a man who loves meat? Why not get him this set of stainless steel steak knives, and have his initials put on the box? The knives are $80, and personalizations is another $7.


Customized Steak Brand and Carving Board

Here is another great gift for the meat-eater in your life - especially if he loves to grill. For $70 you can get a customized, hand-forged iron steak brand and a matching carving board. What guy would not love to put his initials on his steak? And if you know a guy who seems to have everything, well, I doubt he has this!

Manly Slipper Socks

Even the manliest feet get cold, so why not warm them up with a pair of these wool and leather slipper socks? For travel or at home, I think these slipper socks would make a great gift for a man or a woman! Only $45.


Vintage-Style Thermos

Whether he is commuting to work or going on a camping trip, a vintage-style thermos like one of these Stanley Thermoses from West Elm would make a great gift to keep your man warm all day long. From coffee to soup, a thermos like this will keep his stomach nice and warm, and will cost you only $32.


Shaving Stuff

New Year's Eve is right around the corner from Christmas, so do your part to make sure your man is nice and kissable by buying him some fancy shaving stuff! Maybe if he likes his shaving cream and equipment, he will shave more often? Its worth a shot! West Elm is selling a cigar box full of Portland General Store shaving goodies for $45. For another $22 you can make sure he has a fancy wooden shaving brush, too.


I hope these ideas get you well on your way to finding special, thoughtful gifts for all the guys on your shopping list this year! Stay tuned for some great gift ideas for the ladies later in the week.

More Twelve Days Gift Ideas - on the Feminine Side

On Monday I posted some of the gifts that the men in our family have received in their Twelve Days boxes over the past couple of years.  Today I will be sharing with you some of the gifts that us women have received and enjoyed. 

  • Small figurines - if someone on your list has a penchant for a certain animal, say horses, you can look at a couple thrift shops, antique stores, or online (ebay and etsy) to see if you can find a tiny version of their beloved animal, like this one:


  • Puzzles - girls and women like puzzles too! Its all about the subject matter. I have given some cute small magnetic puzzles in the past that easily fit in a Twelve Days Box.
  • Small stained glass - when we were in the UK a couple of years ago it seemed like every gift shop had these adorable, tiny stained glass pieces that were designed to hang in a window - and they fit in Twelve Days Boxes perfectly!

  • Tea lights and holders - there are no shortage of cute tea light holders on the market today. A cute little tea light holder and a tea light candle make a great Twelve Days gift!

  • Magnets - I have given these beatiful Tiffany-inspired magnets, as well as some fun faux-jewel magnets in the past. There are also sets of Scrabble pieces that are magnetized, or fridge-poetry sets that can make a great gift for the more literary/game minded person.

  • Hand cremes - I always find myself reaching for more hand creme this time of year, so I think a nice little tube or pot of hand creme makes a great Twelve Days gift. 

  • Small scented candles - another idea for a candle lover in your life is a small scented candle. You can even buy a little set of different scents and put one in a couple boxes. The mini-tins at illume candles fit in a Twelve Days Box perfectly, and come in a lot of great fragrances.
  • Jewelry - there are no shortage of pretty little things like earrings, necklaces, rings and brooches that will fit in a Twelve Days Box. People always say "the best things come in small boxes"!
  • Candy - just like for the men, women love candy too! Anything from hard candies to truffles will fit in a Twelve Days Box!
  • Coin purse - lots of little boutiques sell cute coin purses. If you are feeling extra-gifty you could even put a little note or gift card in the coin purse!

  • Pill box - I like to have a little box in my purse with a couple of aspirin, and maybe an allergy pill or two, just in case. So why not have those pills in a cute little pill box? It may sound old fashioned, but being a woman who is prepared is never a bad idea. Especially if the pill box is blinged out like these:

  • Small books - if you look in antique stores and book stores you can find "TIny Tomes" and other miniature versions of popular books. One of the best Twelve Days gifts I think I ever gave was a tiny version of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" - how appropriate!
  • Bath bombs/bath salts - we all know the holidays can be stressful, so why not encourage a little relaxation with a little package of bath salts or dissolving bath bombs?
  • Paper weight - A nice paperweight is a welcome addition to any organized desk. 

  • Keychains - a fun personalized keychain can make a great Twelve Days gift.
  • Reusable grocery/tote bag - these bags are really popular now, and they do squish down small enough to fit in a Twelve Days Box, so why not put a bag in a box? They come in lots of cute designs now, too!

  • Tea/tea ball - for the tea drinker in your life, why not put a few nice tea bags in a box, or a small packet of loose-leaf tea and a nice tea ball? 
  • Small picture frame - a tiny picture frame (with a tiny personalized picture or message in it) is a great Twelve Days gift!


Just like the ideas for the guys, a lot of these ideas would be great for anyone! Once you get your creative juices flowing you can think of lots of great, thoughtful gifts that easily fit in a Twelve Days Box.  Happy gifting!

It's That Time of Year Again!

The Turkey has been cooked, and the leftovers enjoyed (or, if your house is anything like mine, the leftovers are still being enjoyed), and now it is time to unabashedly start getting ready for Christmas. It's time to pull out the ladder, get the lights down from the attic and up on the house. And while I have been trying to chip away at my Christmas list slowly for a while now, its time to kick it into high gear!


Celebrating The Twelve Days of Christmas is an important part of my family's holiday season. That means picking out fun little trinkets and goodies throughout the year to fill the boxes for our family members to open from December 26 through January 6. To give you a jump-start on shopping for The Twelve Days of Christmas this week I am going to share with you some of the toys and trinkets that we have given to our family (and received ourselves) over the past couple of years. Today I will share with you some of the goodies that have been found inside the male family member's boxes. Later this week I will share some of the goodies that the ladies have gotten. None of the things on this list are very masculine, so most of these ideas could go for either gender and any age.

  • Wall Walker

These are fun little toys. They are a bit sticky, but harmless. You throw them against a wall or window and they walk their way down. Fun for adults and kids.

  • Cube Robot

These are fun toys to position and play with. They start out as a cube and then transform into a robot. We have two - the smallest one which will fit in a Twelve Days box, and the next size up. Both robots like to hang out in various places around our house. One is hanging out on our wine rack right now.

  • Pencil sharpener/eraser - for the artist or doodler in your life, a fun pencil sharpener and eraser combo makes a good Twelve Days gift. There are lots of cute shapes out there now.
  • Puzzles - these are a yearly occurence in our Twelve Days box. From small jig-saw puzzles to brain-teaser puzzles, they are always a crowd pleaser.
  • Robot pinball

I put one of these in one of my husband's boxes last year. They are a bit hard to play with adult sized fingers, but still fun. And cheap.

  • Chapstick - my father-in-law loves chapstick, as do I. There are so many varieties out there today - from your standard Chapstick brand to Burts Bees to all kinds of other brands with a wide variet of flavors from sweet to minty.
  • Cork animal


These are fun little gifts - especially if you know someone who enjoys wine. Most of us have a couple corks lurking around in a drawer somewhere, so why not dress them up? These "Corkers" come in lots of different sets.

  • Metal bookmark - the kind you can clip on the top or side of a page
  • mini 8-ball - you remember the Magic 8-Ball, right? Well in some party stores and toy stores they sell miniature versions for party-favor bags.
  • geode - I loved geodes when I was a kid. In some toy stores you can find geodes now where you can crack your own. It just looks like a rock from the outside, but if you split it open with a hammer you might find a beautiful geode inside!
  • nose flute


These are fun for kids of all ages. You stick it in your nose and hum, and somewhat like a kazoo it makes noise.

  • chocolate elves - lots of candy stores sell fun little chocolates in all sorts of shapes this time of year. Cost Plus World Market is a good place to look.
  • movie ticket gift cards - we don't go to the movies very often, but at Costco you can usually get movie ticket gift cards that cut the cost down by a couple dollars per ticket, so they make a nice gift for a night out after the holidays are over.
  • Fishing IOU - my husband made a little gift-certificate for his dad that was an I.O.U. for a fishing trip. There are lots of fun things you can make an I.O.U. for - a massage, homemade dinner, free babysitting, etc.
  • Finger monsters

I remember these from when I was a kid, maybe you do too?

  • Light keychain - I like to have a little light on my keychain, for when it is dark and I need to see something (whether it be the keyhole on the front door or to find something in my purse). A little light keychain makes a great Twelve Days gift.
  • Wine aerator - there are quite a few wine-related things that will fit in a Twelve Days Box.
  • Gift cards 
  • Gift subscriptions - you can make your own little coupon to put in a Twelve Days box for any kind of non-tangible gift.
  • Small toys - yo-yos, silly putty, etc.
  • Ornaments
  • Keychains

The list goes on and on. Get creative!



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