Gift ideas for her — moms, girlfriends, sisters, friends

I hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving! In case you’re scouring the internet for gifts, like I am, I thought it might be helpful to share some fun gift ideas for the ladies in your life! Except for the slippers, which I’m hoping to receive this year, all of these items are things I own and love. 100% recommend!

Quay sunglasses (I ordered an extra pair so I’m never without these sunglasses — they’re that good) | leopard-print slippers | sunscreen | apron (I ordered this for my sister!) | nail polish clear coat (Amazon Affiliate link)| Let the Beet Drop shirt

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gift wrapping ideas

Do you love giving gifts? It’s one of my favorite things about the holidays — I love shopping for gifts that I think my family will love. When I find something that’s just right, I relish wrapping the gift, thinking about how the recipient will (hopefully) enjoy what’s inside. I guess it’s cheesy, but the whole process is such a tangible expression of love, and it brings me joy!

While I’ve always enjoyed shopping, the wrapping process used to be a chore. Over the years I’ve come up with a few tips that make it easier and more fun.

1. Buy all the wrapping paper and supplies at once.

Every November I hit up my favorite stores (Home Goods and Michaels) and buy 8 or so rolls of paper in coordinating colors and patterns. The paper isn’t cheap, but It’s SO much easier when I buy it all at once! I also usually grab some brown Kraft paper, jute twine (my favorite for unfussy gifts), black Sharpies, white chalk markers, and ribbon.

This year I wanted to do a neutral theme, so I chose paper in cream and black. In the teachers’ aisle at Michaels, I found a roll of inexpensive black bulletin-board paper — perfect for wrapping a few gifts in dramatic, black paper.

The big hole punch from Paper Source is a quick, easy way to make gift tags from cardstock paper. If I’m wrapping late at night, the “names” on the tags tend to get pretty silly — all part of the fun.

Similar wood slices available here (affiliate link).

2. If you want to do something creative with the gift wrap, set aside one evening and tackle the project.

I love carving my own stamps from potatoes and stamping designs onto Kraft paper (affiliate link). It’s such a low-cost, low-risk, crazy holiday craft! Kraft paper is pretty cheap, so if it goes badly, no big deal — at least you had fun! While I enjoy all aspects of this project, I tend to go a little overboard (as in all things). This year we had long pieces of paper draped over the couch, dining table, and living room chairs, waiting for the paint to dry. I realized that, for me, it’s fun to do the project once every season. If I do it more often, it starts to feel like work!

if you decide to try this project, remember that the shapes don’t have to be perfect (it’s a potato!), and the paint doesn’t have to be evenly dispersed each time you use the stamp. The shapes also don’t need to be evenly spaced on the paper — you probably won’t be able to see any spacing imperfections after the gifts are wrapped. This is just for fun!

In case you’re curious, here’s the paint I used this year (color: Hauser Medium Green). I cut the potatoes into stars and trees. Some of the tree shapes didn’t turn out well, as you can see in the bottom of the photo, so I kept trying until I got one I liked.

3. Set up a gift-wrapping station for the season.

This is my secret weapon! I gather all my supplies in a big basket and hide it behind the couch in the living room, and I stash rolls of wrapping paper in a corner of the room. Because everything is in one place, it’s easy to pull out the supplies and wrap the gifts as they arrive in the mail. And the gifts don’t pile up, so the task doesn’t feel overwhelming. The wrapped gifts are festive and beautiful and get us in the holiday spirit even before we’ve put up the tree!

Happy shopping and wrapping this holiday season!

Gifts for tween boys and girls

It can be so hard to buy gifts for tweens! They’re too old for toys, too young for more grown-up stuff. They’re growing into their own people, which is exciting, but during this time of change it can be hard for parents to find the perfect gift that suits tweens where they are right now.

We’ve got four tween kids in our house — two boys and two girls — and we’re in full-on Christmas mode. If you’re shopping for tweens, too, maybe some of these ideas will help you out.

(And, please, if your kids know our kids, don’t show these guides to them! We’re trying to keep some secrets around here.)

Backyard Ballistics | History by Mail | Bob Has No Arms Shirt | Ninjango Lego set, Hydro Bounty (Amazon affiliate link) | How to Speak Dog

Hey Clay Animals | Maya Angelou scarf | unicorn loofah | henna tattoos | Unicorn Fruit Whipped Body Butter | gold locket

even more hostess gifts, all $30 and under!

I have parties on the brain, I think! I find myself looking for hostess gifts all the time lately, so I thought I’d share some more suggestions with you. None of these are affiliate links. In fact, several are items I already own or plan on giving as gifts. I’ve already purchased a Virginia cutting board as a gift for some dear friends who’ve invited us to Thanksgiving dinner.

  1. City Skyline Slate Cheese Board
  2. State Dish Towel
  3. Large Sloth Hanging Planter
  4. State Cutting Board
  5. Girl’s Face Planter
  6. Candlesticks (candles not included)

If you’re strapped for time, consider picking up a nice bottle of olive oil and tying a ribbon around the top. A friend gave us some delicious olive oil a few years ago, and it was a hot commodity in our house — plus, we thought about her every time we had a salad!

Happy partying this holiday season!

Hostess gifts from Amazon — all $30 or under!

Now that the holiday season is on its way, I’ve been thinking about hostess gifts! After the last year and a half, I’m SO happy to get back in the swing of socializing and spending time with dear friends.

I’m always on the hunt for hostess gifts beyond the regular bottle of wine, so I put together some ideas for you. All are $30 or under and will arrive to your door quickly! Many of these are items I’ve purchased in the past and have absolutely loved.

(Please note that the links below are affiliate links, which means I may make a small commission if you purchase one of these items, but there’s no additional cost to you.)

Olive and Linen makes luxurious towels for the kitchen and bathroom. I’ve bought many of them over the years, and I’ve found their products to be very high quality. The towels last forever and look great, wash after wash. Most of their towel sets are over $30, but I found this cute one for only $28. Better get it now!

People rave about this candle on Amazon, and for good reason! I bought one a few days ago as a thank-you gift for a friend, and it smells like an old-fashioned Christmas. I’m going to buy some extra ones in case we get any last-minute party invitations (fingers crossed)!

This cookbook is one of our favorites, and it’s a great choice for families with kids. Maria’s banana bread recipe is delicious, and I appreciate their focus on quick, healthy dinners that are easy for harried parents to pull together at the last minute.

This cookbook was written by the owner of our favorite Cuban cocktail bar in NYC. The bar closed a few years ago, sadly, but we still LOVE this book and use it all the time. It would be a cute gift combined with a package of paper umbrellas — instant party! Keep in mind, though, that some of the liquor needed for the recipes can get pricey, so this isn’t a great gift for someone on a strict budget.

This cookbook, written by one of my favorite food bloggers, has been on my list for a while. In fact, I’m buying a copy today for a dear friend’s birthday. And I highly recommend the blog — www.cookieandkate.com — for healthy, vegetarian recipes that are accessible to everyone and don’t require unusual ingredients. This is one of the few vegetarian cookbooks that appeals to meat-eaters as well as vegetarians, vegans, and everything in between!

These oven gloves would be a great gift for someone hosting a BBQ or a s’mores party! We gave John a pair last year for Christmas, and we use them almost daily. They’re big enough for his hands (which is saying something!), but people with smaller hands (like me) can use them, too. He appreciates the fact that they protect his wrists when he’s working on the grill.

I’ve got more gift guides coming to you soon. Happy party planning!

DIY

4 easy ways to make your home more enjoyable

During the past year and a half, our family has spent so much time in our house. So. Much. Time. And it’s got me thinking about the easy ways we can make our homes more enjoyable. I’ve noticed I feel more relaxed and less anxious when at least one room in the house is put-together and relatively clear of clutter. Anyone else feel that way?

1. fancy soap dispensers

I probably use more soap than anyone else in the house (go figure), and these dispensers (affiliate link) are a silly little thing, but they never fail to make me smile. Plus, this setup with the faux marble tray (affiliate link) was very inexpensive. I gave the same set to my parents and sister for Christmas last year!

2. new drawer hardware

My parents gave us this old lingerie dresser, and I never really took care of it. The top was covered with junk (artfully cropped out of the photo), and the cords were a mess. After a good cleaning and a spiffy upgrade with new handles from CB2, the dresser looks better than ever!

Funny enough, after investing a little time and money in this space, I’ve kept it looking exactly like the photo with minimal effort.

3. gold switch plates

This one feels silly, but I swear it makes our home more enjoyable! We ordered gold switch plates from Home Depot a few months ago, and they make everything feel fancier!

4. plants – real and faux

We have a ton of live plants around the house — they really deserve their own blog post! — but lately I’m finding faux plants to be almost as beautiful (and worry-free). I’m especially partial to displaying plants at varying heights, including hanging baskets from the ceiling and balancing pots on small pedestals or footstools.

These succulents (affiliate link) are faux and were very inexpensive! The container is from World Market a few years ago.

I hope some of these ideas resonated with you! We still have a long way to go, but our house is feeling cozier every day.

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DIY chalkboard calendar and command center

A few years ago I made this calendar and command center and installed it in a busy hallway in our house. We still use it every month, except for a long period in 2020 when there wasn’t anything to write on the calendar! And it was incredibly easy to make.

We bought an old window frame at an amazing warehouse of old house parts in Front Royal, Virginia. If you’re in the DC area, I highly recommend taking a day trip out there! Their website is incredibly useful, too, because they’ve catalogued every item in their inventory and included the dimensions and price on their site.

Although there’s not much paint on the window, I figured that some of it might be lead paint. I slathered on many coats of polyurethane with the intention of locking in any lead paint so it wouldn’t flake off in our house. (This probably wasn’t the safest plan, but we thought it was reasonable given the ages of our kids and the intended use of this piece.) We took an old piece of plywood, added several coats of chalkboard paint, and nailed it to the back of the frame. Easy peasy!

My mom used a white paint pen to draw squares for the days of the week and wrote the days of the week (with her schoolteacher handwriting!) at the top of each column. Every month or so we use colored chalk to write the calendar dates in each square and add our planned activities. I often make notes at the top of the calendar — for example, our girls wear dress uniforms on certain days and gym uniforms on other days, and I wrote each girl’s uniform schedule at the top of the calendar. We usually print out the school lunch calendar and tape it to the calendar frame. The basket holds colored chalk, magazines and catalogs.

Don’t let the photos fool you — this is often a chaotic, messy part of our house. But having everything written down in one place is essential for me, and it helps the kids anticipate our weekend plans. I expect that I’ll use this for many years to come!

If you’d rather buy a calendar and skip the DIY, Lindsay Letters has some beautiful ones!

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painting vases with baking soda to add texture

So many people on Instagram have been experimenting with baking soda and paint, and I had to jump on the bandwagon. Turns out this is a VERY easy way to add texture to vases. The hardest part is washing the clumpy paint out of the paintbrush afterward.

I used primer for the green vase on the right but not the plant pot on the left, and it turns out that primer isn’t really necessary. I had to do two coats of paint for both items anyway.

To mix the paint, I used a ratio of about 1:2 of baking soda to paint. The final result was the consistency of pudding. The video below shows the technique that worked best for adding texture.

And these pictures show the steps along the way. I kept the plant in the pot the whole time!

For the plant pot, I used Alabaster by Sherwin Williams, and for the green vase I used Sage by Jolie. (Jolie paints are amazing for a matte finish on furniture.)

Happy painting!

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making art more personal and fun

Over the years I’ve added a lot of fun and wacky art to our home. I’ll frame pretty much anything if it brings me joy!

Much of my art, including the pieces pictured below, comes from one of my favorite charities, Art Enables. The marvelous people who run this nonprofit help developmentally-disabled adults create and sell art. They give people community, a sense of pride, and a small income. I had the pleasure of meeting the artist who made some of the paintings I bought, and he was so gracious and excited about his art.

We’ve also decorated our home with some mementos of the early days of our relationship. The sign pictured below was a gift from me to him on our wedding day, and it reminds us of a song by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. I also framed a postcard of a diner in Richmond that was an important place for us when we started dating. Seeing it always makes me smile.

Along our stairs I hung my daughters’ ballet shoes from when they were teeny. As you can tell, these shoes saw a lot of wear — the younger one in particular went through a time when she wore these shoes every day with a sparkly purple dance outfit, no matter what we were doing. Such sweet memories.

My mom came up with the idea of framing the kids’ art in big, inexpensive frames from Michaels. We took out the paper that came with the frame and flipped it around to make a solid, white surface, and then we used washi tape or scotch tape to affix the kids’ art to the white paper. It’s easy to swap the art every few months, which is awesome.

But my absolute favorite piece of art is a painting by Mike Warren replicating a photo from vacation in August 2019. We captured an awesome shot of all four kids jumping off a dock, and Mike turned it into a beautiful painting. You can read more about that process here.

What are your favorite ways to make art in your home feel more personal? Let me know in the comments!

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easy and inexpensive fall decorations

Happy Fall! I finished decorating the front door this week, and the seasonal look makes it feel so festive! I thought it might be helpful to share some quick, easy, and cheap decorating tips I’ve learned over the years.

1. Spray paint plastic plant pots

I bought the mums from Home Depot and painted some of the plastic grow pots with black spray paint I found in our garage. It creates a more unified look, and it’s very fast and easy. I’ve read that mums last a lot longer if you transplant them into better, bigger pots, but I’ve never done that. Which leads to my next tip . . .

2. Try to use mums as perennials.

When the mums have finished blooming, I often move the grow pots to an inconspicuous, sunny part of the backyard and leave them during the spring and summer. I don’t water them or really pay any attention to them at all. And, often, they live through the cold winter and bloom again the following September. (We’re in gardening zone 7A.)

If you do this, it’s best to cut them back in early spring so they don’t get too leggy. And remember that terracotta pots will crack if left outside in very cold weather – I usually leave the mums in the plastic grow pots from the store.

3. Combine several grow pots in a large planter.

We had a big plastic planter in the backyard that was a garish color. I spray painted it black, filled it with styrofoam, and tucked a few plastic grow pots inside it. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the grow pots, but you can’t see them when you’re standing up straight and look down at the planter. Easiest hack ever!

4. Add height and lights.

I bought this log rack in nickel (the only color available at the time) and stacked firewood in it. And I added some of these beautiful battery-operated candles (affiliate link). Such a pretty glow, plus I don’t have to worry about safety, and I can turn them off with a remote control! I tucked one of the candles inside a metal jack-o-lantern from Pottery Barn.

*I get commissions from purchases made through some links in this post.*

Enjoy decorating for the season! We’re getting out the fog machine and the life-size skeleton pretty soon.