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December 2014



Ready or not, we’re smack in the middle of the gift giving season! Topping the list of difficult people to buy for: Your parents and in-laws, the teens and tweens in your life and your child’s classroom teacher. If only there was a list of ideas or tips to make your shopping trips easier. . . Wait – here it is!


15 Gifts from the Heart for Mom & Dad

Coming up with a gift idea for our parents or in-laws can be frustrating. Most of our parents are at the age when they are downsizing and are not looking to add to their collections, closets, or cabinets. They have come to the point in their life where, in many cases, if they want something, they buy it for themselves.


Unfortunately, that makes gift-giving more challenging. Instead of hitting the mall to shop for their gifts, create something that will touch their hearts. For larger or more time-consuming gifts, consider pooling your resources with your siblings and make it a group gift.


1) Take pictures of the children or grandchild holding large poster board letters that make up the family name and arrange in a multi-photo frame. This works well for families that can’t get together for a large group picture.

2) Decorate Grandma and Grandpa’s yard with individual handprint steppingstones. Use kits from the craft stores and embellish with shells, mosaic tiles, or beach glass.


3) Design a family/mom ring or necklace using the birthstones from everyone in the family. While you might find what you are looking for at the jewelry store, don’t overlook shopping on Etsy or creating your own from beads at the craft store.


4) Gather up your parent’s reel-to-reels and VHS tapes and have them converted to DVD. You can convert them yourself using software like Honestech or search for conversion services near your hometown.


5) Give them a puzzle made from a treasured family photo. Check out PortraitPuzzles.com or Shutterfly.com for custom puzzles from 15 to 1,000 pieces. It’s a great activity to work on with Grandma or Grandpa this summer.


6) Remind Mom and Dad how many lives they touch by interviewing their family and friends on video. Ask questions like, “What kind of friend is she?” or “Tell us a funny story that involves our mom or dad.”


7) Keep the traditions of storytelling going by giving your parents a guided journal to record their own memories. Try “A Grandparent’s Legacy: Your Life Story in Your Own Words” by Thomas Nelson, available on Amazon.


8) Get a family DNA screening from Ancestry.com and see where your ancestors originated. You will not only discover your ethnicity, but you may even find some long lost relatives. Pets are family, too. Check out DNAmydog.com to see what makes up your mixed breed dog.


9) Craft personalized flowerpots using kids’ hand or foot prints and add the line “Watch us grow.” Let older kids autograph the pots near their prints. Fill with herbs or flowers seeds and display on patios or in kitchen windows.


10) Make personalized coasters – use family pictures, Little League and school logos or maps depicting family homes across the country. Look for do-it-yourself coasters at craft stores or create them at your local photo processing center.


11) Preserve a loved one’s handwriting by creating signature jewelry. Etsy offers many sellers who make custom jewelry from your handwritten name or small message.


12) Snap pictures of letters from recognizable signs around the family’s home town and place in individual frames to spell out the family’s first names. Arrange on the wall in a Scrabble-like display.


13) Compile your family tree with the help of online research tools like Ancestry.com. Start with the basics and trace your family back as far as you can or make a current family tree including the extended family’s birthdays and anniversaries.


14) Recreate childhood pictures of you and your siblings to make a Then and Now scrapbook. Your parents will enjoy a good laugh (and a good cry) as the memories come pouring in.


15) If you enjoy cooking, make your parents’ life easier by creating meals and freezing into portions for two or put together some ready-to-crockpot freezer meals. Include a personalized recipe book so they can recreate the meals themselves.


6 Cool Gift Ideas for Tweens & Teens

Most of us can relate to the frustrations of a teenager who receives a gift that doesn’t fit their style. When I was fourteen, my aunt bought me a dictionary for Christmas. I am sure I did my best to look happy and act thankful, but it was not the gift I was hoping for. In fact, the next day, the dictionary was shoved in the bottom drawer of my desk where it remained untouched for a long time.


With the holidays approaching, it is time to think about what to get the tweens and teens in our life. Don’t be fooled into believing that every teenager appreciates the same thing. Like us, they all have their own taste. Although it is hard to compete with the electronics on their wish lists, you can find something within your budget to make them happy.



It is not a surprise that tweens and teens like to do things with their friends. Encourage interaction with friends beyond social networking and video games and buy them a gift of entertainment. Teens love going to the movies, bowling, or to a local pizza restaurant. More active teens may enjoy gifts to go rock climbing or play laser tag.


Memory Keeper

A teen’s life is measured in events – choir practices, football games, dances at school or youth group outings. Why not let them preserve the memories of those events by giving them journals, photo albums or frames? A digital frame allows your teen to run a slideshow of their photos and relive those good times every day. A simple scrapbook may be welcomed by a craftier teen to store ticket stubs and concert programs.



You will always get a positive response – and maybe even a smile – when you give the gift of cash. Many teens want to save for a big purchase and money is at the top of their lists. Instead of handing over a card with a check inside, be more creative. Blow up balloons and insert rolled up $1 bills. Make a money tree from a branch, place it in a pot and decorate with money as if it is growing. Tape cash together end to end and roll up inside an empty tissue box. Stick the end of the money roll out the top so money can continuously pull out.



There are magazines for every interest, hobby and age group. Whether your teen is an avid reader or just appreciates the pull out posters, magazines are the perfect gift. For the tech savvy teen, consider giving them a digital subscription that they can view on an e-reader. Wrap the current issue of the magazine as your gift and place a little card inside letting them know about their subscription. Your gift will be enjoyed all year long.


A Gift for Two

As much as teens like to be with their friends, they value spending time with family members, too. Give them the gift of your time and do something together. Buy two tickets to a play, concert, or sporting event and take your teen with you. Try a spa day or a museum tour. Why not make a day of it by tailgating or eating a nice dinner out? Print out the brochure from the play, a team logo or museum map to place in a box with an itinerary of your day together.


$5 Gift Cards

If you are still not sure what to get your tween or teen, it’s time to fall back on gift cards. Why not purchase several $5 gift cards so your teen can enjoy your gift on a few occasions? Five dollars is enough for a latte, a mall pretzel, an ice cream, a sub sandwich or a few items at the dollar store.


This holiday season, deliver the cool gift your tween or teen will use and appreciate. With a little creativity and a little information about your teen, you are guaranteed to pick something that won’t sit in a drawer with the tags still on it. Adults may say it is the thought that counts, but when you are a teen, it really is the gift. And cool doesn’t have to be expensive!


The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: A Guide to Teacher Gifts

As I flipped through a new holiday catalog over coffee with a teacher friend, I commented to her about how many apple items are available as teacher gifts. “I know,” she said, “I have most of them at home.”


Teacher gifts are on the list for many of us this year. Compared to buying for your parents or your teenage nephew, finding a teacher gift seems like a simple task. Many grab a gift card from the kiosk or some lotion from Bath and Body Works. Mission accomplished, right? Wrong. This is the person your child spends most of his time with during the school year and deserves a little more thought put into their gift. When selecting a gift this year, consider these tips before you go shopping.


Follow the Golden Rule

We have all received gifts that did not fit our tastes – knickknacks, scented candles, bath salts. When shopping for a gift, we naturally flock to something of our liking. This time, put yourself in the teacher’s place. None of us want to receive something that we won’t use. Unless you are certain of his or her tastes, avoid selecting a gift that may end up in her “re-gift” pile.


Finding the Teacher’s Interests

We want to get our child’s teacher something she will enjoy. Some parents prefer to come right out and ask the teacher in an email. While this is a direct approach, it may make some teachers uncomfortable, as if they are asking for gifts. A better way to approach it is to pick up on hints while talking to the teacher or visiting the classroom during the school year. When you take the time to get to know your child’s teacher, many ideas can be picked up in casual conversation.


A Gift for the Classroom

In most cases, teachers are the ones who purchase the posters, bulletin board items, and books for the classroom library. By offering a gift for the class, you are helping support the teacher’s efforts to make the classroom a more pleasant learning environment. Some teachers offer a wish list of books or classroom materials at the beginning of the year. If you are unsure what to give to the classroom, choose gift cards to Amazon, Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, or Barnes & Noble and let the teacher pick out something he or she can put to use to benefit the entire class.

Gift Cards for The Teacher

Gift cards are an easy gift to pick up and it allows teachers to pick out something they want or need. Do your research before selecting a gift card. Don’t get your child’s teacher a gift card for a manicure if she bites her nails. Stay away from Starbucks gift cards if he doesn’t drink coffee. If you are not sure, consider a gift card from your local mall – it can be spent in any store, so the teacher is sure to be able to use it towards something they’d like.


Homemade Gifts – Do’s and Don’ts

Do – We all like to know that something we did, no matter how small, made a difference in someone’s life. Make a classroom scrapbook with personal notes from the students and parents. Take the time to tell your child’s teacher how much your child enjoys his daily knock-knock joke or how much you appreciate the teacher spending his lunch hour to help your child with math.


Don’t – Don’t give your teacher a homemade tile coaster or individual artwork to display. Many teachers are moms just like you. As a parent, we find it hard to find a place to display all the artwork our own children make for us. After a while, the room starts to look cluttered with foam frames and colorful drawings. With 25 kids in the class, whose artwork would you choose to display? To be fair, the answer would be none of them. Your child’s homemade gift will end up in a box shortly after the thank you note is written.


When money is tight, give the gift of your time. Teachers can always use an extra set of hands to do the behind the scenes work to prepare for the day’s lesson or get ready for a special classroom event.


And remember, you don’t have to wait for the holidays to show the teacher just how much he or she is appreciated. There are several opportunities throughout the year to show your child’s teacher how much you value her. A simple and sincere thank you for her time and dedication goes a long way.


Pam Molnar is a freelance journalist living in Naperville, Illinois and mother of two tweens and a teen. She finds joy in giving gifts that fill hearts rather than fill shelves.