Gift ideas that focus on togetherness

So it’s that time of year where we feel the need to get gifts for everyone. But, as in the Grinch’s epiphany, “maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!” This post piggybacks off of last week’s, that it’s about presence and not presents, providing some ideas for gifts that aren’t just going to sit and collect dust. Christmas is about love and here are some great ideas to help spread that love while making memories with our loved ones.

Spa/salon/massage certificate or gift card

This is great for the person in your life who needs a little pampering. Getting a manicure with some girlfriends or sisters is a great way to spend an afternoon. And guys, it’s okay for you too! You don’t need to get polish to have someone soak and take care of your hands.

Dinner at a restaurant

A gift card to a favorite restaurant is great for a loved one who lives a distance away. For one who is closer, give them a certificate to take them out to dinner.

Dance/yoga/kickboxing classes

This would be a great time to try something different, like dance classes with a significant other or a belly dancing class with a couple of girlfriends.

Coupon for a service

Do you have a friend who just had a baby or an older person in your life who doesn’t get around as well as when he/she was younger? A voucher for babysitting or a day of help around the house or yard is sure to be greatly appreciated.

Movie/concert tickets

For someone who loves the movies or a particular band, tickets to the event would be a fun evening for you to do together. The event can even be a couple of months down the road. Sometimes the anticipation is part of the fun!


Maybe you have a loved one who holds a cause near to his/her heart, like cancer research, homelessness, or need of resources in a developing country. A donation in someone’s name is a caring gesture of that person’s values. There are foundations for every cause out there and local aid organizations. A couple of amazing international aid organizations are World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and Charity Water. Charity Navigator can also direct you to choosing the right one for your donation.

Tourist attractions

If you live in a big city, you sometimes take attractions for granted. Spend an afternoon playing tourist and do those activities that you haven’t done since an old school field trip, like visit a museum or local historical site.

Homemade consumables

A homemade sugar or salt scrub is very easy to make in large batches, as is dry cookie dough mix in a jar. For coffee and hot chocolate lovers, chocolate dipped spoons with a bag of their favorite drink is also a great idea. Get the kiddos to help bake and package family favorite holiday treats to hand out to friends. Pinterest is full of ideas!


Whatever you buy does not need to be expensive. What matters is that you spend time with the person. Look on Groupon for deals for different services and activities. If you have siblings or a group of friends, you can even agree instead of buying gifts, that you will all get a package to a certain class or spa service. And these gift ideas are good for other traditional giving occasions, such as Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, and birthdays.

Presence not Presents

It is that glorious time of the year where we pack lots of social events, family time, cooking, baking, eating, shopping, wrapping, running around… into 6 weeks.

This year, maybe you can do something different. Slow down. Don’t focus so much on presents as presence.

Start some new family traditions.

Clean out the toy box or the closets and have your children help you take the items to a charity for donation. Teach them that just because they are done loving their stuffed bear doesn’t mean that another child won’t love it just as much. The way I explained it to my kiddos when they both still believed in Santa was that by us donating their old toys, moms and dads who want to buy gifts for their kids but maybe cannot afford brand new things, can buy these things to make their little ones happy.

Take nature walks or discover geocaching, which is basically a modern day treasure hunt.

Watch science experiment videos online and then perform them together (with proper safety precautions, of course).

Watch the home videos your parents took when you were a child. Our children love seeing us at our awkward stages in living color.

Make hot chocolate or tea and sit and have a conversation with them, especially if they are at an age where they still like to talk to you and even more so if they are in those difficult teen years where they don’t talk to any adult.

When the littles ask you to play an imaginary game, do it, even if it’s five minutes. You will only have so many more chances. Turn things like making dinner into a game. I call it cooking school. We put on our aprons and the girls do what they can according to their ability, usually really easy meals.

As a stepmom, I get less time with my two girls than a full-time parent, so I really need to make my time count. Some mornings it’s hard to pry the electronics out of the kids’ hands (and let’s be honest, sometimes my own) but once I am successful, the girls always have fun when we spend time doing something together. And I really value the time with them.

In terms of presents: Sure, you may have bought your children forty gifts each last year and might feel the need to surpass that this year. But if you don’t, your kids will live. A few years ago I saw this on Pinterest and I love it.




Our culture is driven by mindless consumerism and meaningless materialism. It took me getting out of a lot of credit card debt to have my eyes opened, but this topic is for another blog post. As one of my heroes Dave Ramsey says, “more is caught than is taught”. Your children learn by watching what you do, not what you say. You remember that anti-drug PSA from the ‘80s…




Anyway, just some thoughts on that. We just had the girls at our house for the past week and it’s always a little sad the day or so after they go back home. I am just feeling a little sentimental.


10 Simple Thanksgiving Tips

The big day is almost here — The Super Bowl of Food! The day we get together with our family and sometimes have to deal with awkward questions from nosy/well-intentioned loved ones. People spend lots of money and time to make large, decadent meals.

You’ve worked hard the past few weeks. You made it to the gym or to your boot camp every day last week! You were careful when ordering take-out. But you still don’t want all of your hard work to go down the drain, nor do you want to deprive yourself.

Our culture, especially the during the holidays, revolves around food.

It seems, sometimes, to be the entire point of a get together. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the day…without the self-loathing later.

1. Eat before the big event.

If you are going over to Aunt Sally’s at 3 p.m., make sure you’ve had breakfast, a glass of water, and maybe even a small salad before you pack up the car. When you arrive starving, you are more likely to go overboard with the appetizers laid out.

2. Let others get ahead of you in line.

A full dish heaped with a mountain of mashed potatoes next to a full gravy boat is very enticing. A half full dish isn’t as luring.

3. Turn your plate into a rainbow.

A variety of food will help you to get the most variety of nutrients – vitamins and minerals, not just nutrient-lacking carbs. The different colored food will also tend to have different textures, giving more eating pleasure.

4. Make smaller dishes.

We love to make large dishes, or double a recipe, to feed large crowds of people. But chances are really good that there will be a plethora of dishes at the buffet and sometimes just a bite or two is really all that’s needed to satiate a craving.

5. Choose booze or sugar — not both.

These two food groups pack a huge caloric punch for their volumes. If you go full blast for all the choices, bloating, lethargy, and disappointment are sure to follow.

6. If you choose booze, make a low-calorie drink.

Mixed drinks can be a “two-fer”: both alcohol AND sugar, which are just empty calories and both negatively affect blood sugar levels. Alcohol is a toxin and the body treats it as such, expelling all of its energy into ridding itself of it, thereby disrupting other bodily functions, such as digestion and regulation of hormones, to do so.. Be wise with your choices. If you like mixed drinks, a great substitute is vodka and La Croix. La Croix is super trendy right now and can be found at most grocers. It is naturally flavored, carbonated water that has no sugar or artificial ingredients, and comes in about 20 different flavors. My favorite is the Cherry Lime/Cerise Limón. Mix it with vodka and it is a grown-up version of a Sonic Cherry Limeade.

The best part of getting a case of La Croix is that it is a perfect substitute for kiddos or other non-drinkers to have instead of chemical-laden soda/pop and you can make festive mocktails. Here is a link with some recipes to inspire you.

7. If you choose sugar, make one indulgence.

A piece of pie, any flavor, has a significant amount of calories and sugar. Choose one dessert to have one serving of and let that be the pièce de résistance to an amazing meal.

8. Practice mindful eating.

If possible, make sure to sit down while eating. Hopefully there will be no electronic distractions at the dinner table. Take two or three bites, set down your fork, take a drink, and reply with a witty comeback to cousin John’s comment about current events. Oftentimes we consume our meals so fast that our brains have a lag time in realizing that we are full.

9. Stay hydrated.

As I tell my kids all the time, much to their annoyance, sometimes when we think we are hungry, we are actually thirsty. Drink a glass of water before the meal starts.

10. Help clean up.

Especially if you are not hosting, assisting on the clean-up crew is such a big help to your host/hostess. It also helps to ensure that you are not going back for seconds.
Happy Thanksgiving!!