Special Delivery: Gift Cards

This year the families from Gemma’s preschool class combined forces to get the teachers gift cards to their favorite stores and restaurants for Christmas. Here’s an idea for how to package those cards and give the teachers a little something extra for all care and guidance they give our kids!

gift card boxwood planters


  • Boxwood or other potted plant (We found mini boxwoods in wood planters at Trader Joe’s.)
  • Gift cards
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Drinking straws
  • Scissors
  • Optional: colorful tinsel garland, small ornament(s)

Step 1. Wrap your gift cards in pipe cleaners to resemble bows on a present. Wrap your gift card vertically with one pipe cleaner, leaving a long end to thread through a drinking straw. Wrap a second pipe cleaner horizontally from behind, twisting or making a bow with the ends on the front.

Step 2. Insert straw in dirt of potted plant; you may wish to cut your straws to create varied heights for the “presents”. Insert your pipe cleaner/gift card into a straw.

Step 3. (Optional) Tuck some tree garland around the base and add a few ornaments (we used a foam craft gingerbread ornament which Gemma made at home).

gift card boxwood planter

This is a fun way to package gift card presents for anyone on your wish list!!

Norwegian Krumkake

The holiday season is the best time to celebrate traditions and feed your soul. My celebration couldn’t be complete without some good old-fashioned baked goods, and this year I’m including a family favorite which represents my Scandinavian heritage. Krumkake (krmk), is best described as a fancy waffle cookie and simply translates to curved cake in Norwegian.

Krumkake recipe


My mother and grandmothers made this delicate treat each holiday season, and as a child I’ll admit it wasn’t the first item I chose from the dessert tray. No, I lunged for anything with sprinkles, chocolate or caramel. However, as an adult, I have come to love this crispy, sweet-tasting cookie and decided to make a batch myself. Lucky for you, I’m sharing my recipe (a slight variation from the one pictured above) and some tips you can use to make your own krumkake.

To make krumkake, you will need a special krumkake iron, available online from Villa Ware through Amazon or other specialty retailers (~$100). I received mine as a gift from my mother, who incidentally uses a traditional stove-top iron vs. my electric, non-stick iron. Your iron will come with a wooden cone to roll/shape the cookies. You’ll need a large cooking space, a timer, and a spatula to remove the cookie from the hot iron once it’s done. As you can see below, I wasn’t sure what type of spatula would work best. The slotted, stiff spatula did the trick.



  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened to room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons milk

Step 1. Preheat krumkake iron. Grease iron with cooking spray or shortening.


Step 2. Beat eggs with a hand mixer or Kitchen Aid mixer.


Step 3. Add sugar, butter, vanilla and cardamom and mix well.

krumkake_sugar krumkake_butter

krumkake_vanilla krumkake_cardamom

Step 4. Add flour and milk, alternating a little of each and mixing well as you go. The batter should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter.

krumkake_flour krumkake_milk

Step 5. Spoon a tablespoon-sized dollop of batter in the center of each krumkake plate and close the iron. Let the batter bake for 30-45 seconds.


Step 6. Open the iron and use a spatula to remove the cookie from the plate and set on a towel/countertop. Use the wooden mold to roll the cookie into a cone shape. Allow cookie to set a few seconds before transferring to a cooling rack. The cookie will be soft when you remove it from the oven and will crisp up as it cools. Repeat until you’ve used all the dough.

krumkake_baked krumkake_baked spatula krumkake_roller krumkake_rolled

Step 7. You may wish to sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar for additional sweetness, or serve with berries, jam, whipped cream or Nutella. Be sure to store krumkake in a covered cake pan or other airtight container (to avoid humidity as they will stale quickly otherwise).

I love the traditional krumkake cone however I also love waffle cones with my fro-yo and ice cream. After making about half the batch, I decided to experiment a bit using some nesting bowls to create some krumkake bowls for my frozen delights. I was pleasantly surprised to see these turn out so well!

Instead of rolling the cookie on the cone, I simply placed the warm cookie over top of the smaller glass bowl, then cupped the larger glass bowl over the top to mold it into a bowl shape. I let each one cool for 30 seconds before transferring to a cooling rack, placing them upside down to keep their shape until they cool completely.

krumkake_glass nesting bowls

krumkake_bowl mold



Yield: 24

Special Notes:

2013 Best Gift Ideas for Boys

It just wouldn’t be fair if I only offered up great gift items for girls so I’m happy to say I also polled parents to get their best suggestions for holiday or special occasion gifts for boys.

Some of the best comments from parents of boys…

“I like giving the kids gifts that will continue to spark their sense of adventure.”

“We try to focus on family trips, tickets (zoo, movies, museums, etc) or lessons (tennis, swimming, music, etc). I find these are things that we can all enjoy as opposed to toys that have fifty pieces which will be scattered all over the house and partially lost within a week.”

“I prefer gifts that are engaging and choose items my son enjoys. Children’s tastes change so much and right now my son is into super heroes, building and cars so those are all fun toys for pretend play. We do a lot of craft kits for both our children and use them as gifts – it is so fun for them to make gifts for others vs just buying something at the store.”

“Honestly, my son wants a real vacuum cleaner for Christmas. He likes things that he can take apart and put back together. He loves his scooter too.” (parent of 3-6 year old boy)

“Boys in this age group are pretty easy – electronics and video games.” (parent of 9-12 year-old boy)

I must admit since I have a girl (my only child), boy gifts are always a struggle. My mind immediately goes to cars, trucks and Legos, and I’m left wondering if my lack of imagination and experience is easily recognizable. Selfishly, I’m so relieved to have the list below next time I need ideas for boy gifts.

All Ages

  • Sporting equipment (clothes, bat, baseball glove, t-ball stand, soccer ball, soccer goals, helmet/pads)
  • Outdoor gear (compass, Camelbak hydration pack, hunting gear)
  • Activity voucher/tickets (paintball, bowling, batting cage, arcade)
  • “A Day with Dad” and “A Day with Mom” voucher (lunch + arcade = happiness!!)
  • Things with wheels (bicycle, balance bike, scooter, Plasma car, skateboard)
  • Tickets to sporting event, movie or concert
  • Enrollment in lessons (tennis, piano, swimming, martial arts, guitar)
  • Trip to museum or zoo
  • Personal entertainment device (iPad mini, Kindle HD, 2DS XL, MP3 player)

Ages 0-3

  • Puzzles (Melissa & Doug wooden peg puzzles)
  • Blocks (Duplo, Mega Bloks)
  • Books (I Spy, anything Dr. Seuss)
  • Games (Spot It, Bingo, Dominoes)
  • Animals in a toob
  • Magazine subscription (Zoo Books, High Five, National Geographic Little Kids)

Ages 4-6

  • Legos
  • T-Rex shirt, sports team clothing
  • Puzzles, books, flashcards
  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Leap Pad reader/early reader/explorer
  • Toy cars, trucks, machinery, trains (Thomas the Tank Engine train set/table)
  • Instruments (guitar, keyboard, bongos)
  • Action figures/sets (Batman, Spiderman, Mike the Knight, Star Wars)
  • Chalk trail (attach to back of bicycle)
  • Games (Angry Birds, Hungry Hippo, I Can Do That/The Cat in the Hat)
  • Magazine subscription (Highlights, National Geographic Kids)

Ages 7-9

  • Skylanders Swap force figurines & Wii game
  • Video game console/games
  • Board games (Hedbanz, Apples to Apples Kids/Junior, Life)
  • Magazine subscription (Ranger Rick, Sports Illustrated Kids, YUM Food & Fun for Kids)
  • Donation to children’s charity in his name

Ages 9+

  • Gift cards (iTunes, batting cages, arcade)
  • Star Wars Death Star Lego set
  • Kitchen supplies (hot dog steamer, popcorn maker, personal smoothie blender)
  • Magazine subscription (Sports Illustrated, Ranger Rick)

I hope this list has helped inspire gift giving to the boys in your life. And just for fun, I’ll wrap up this boy gift post with a few fun snapshots of my little brother and a few of his favorite gifts from childhood…love you, bro!!!

Erik and “Arnold Leo” (an original Cabbage Patch Kid)

Erik + Arnold Leo (one of the original Cabbage Patch Kids)

Erik and his GI Joe loot (during his 9th birthday party)

Erik + GI Joe gifts (9yo)

2013 Best Gift Ideas for Girls

Wow! I asked, you answered, and I’m so grateful. A few weeks ago I asked a group of parent-friends to share some of their favorite gift ideas for girls so I could steal them and pass them off as my own share them with you! I was blown away with the responses!

I hope this post will help parents, grandparents and all gift-givers as you brave the crowds this holiday season in search of those special items for the young girls in your world.

Here are some general thoughts on gift-giving shared by my parent all-stars…

I like gifts for girls to be something they can engage with – such as crafts, Legos and dolls for pretend play.

I prefer all the stuff leading up to Christmas – getting and decorating the tree, making cookies, reading Christmas stories, ice skating, looking at lights, making things for other people, singing Carols. I would prefer only a few special gifts be given on Christmas.

Anything that involves glitter and art is a hit – sparkly pens, glitter glue, shiny/metallic beading crafts always provide hours of open-ended creativity!

[I’m] trying to get gifts to foster activity, imagination, and play yet aren’t branded or suggestive with image. There will be plenty of things telling our little one what she “should” be before we know it.

Every year before Christmas and birthdays, the girls and I go through their toys and see which items other kids might enjoy more than themselves, and we donate them to different charities. It helps teach the children a good lesson on life and also helps to keep my house clutter-free.

And while you’re out-and-about this season, don’t forget to SHOP LOCAL! This coming Saturday (November 30) is Small Business Saturday. You can support the health and wellness of your community this holiday season by spending your hard-earned cash at small retail, dining and service businesses in your local town. Visit the link to find a list of stores in your area. I’m excited to spend a few dollars this Saturday in my parent’s mom-and-pop drug store back home in Danville, IL!!!

52% of local sales image

This is also a great time of year to select a charity and help your kids celebrate the joy of giving to those who need our support. Last week, Gemma and I gathered a cart of groceries to contribute to her preschool food drive, and this will be the second year we’ll let Gemma purchase several items from her Christmas wish list to give to other kids through the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign in NC. Take as many opportunities to instill a passion for community service in your kids…the world will thank you for it later!

Now on to the survey results! A majority of parents (47%) said they prefer giving a combination of both material and “experience” gifts (i.e. tickets to sporting events/concerts). I’m so with you on this one! It’s nice to know so many folks strive to create more meaningful memories with their kids. Keep it up! Your kids will undoubtedly recall fondly the year you took them to a pro sporting event or enrolled them in art class.

This was Gemma and I last December (2012) before we headed out to our first annual mother-daughter outing to the Carolina Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker:

Gemma + Jill Nutcracker Day 2012

And now…without further ado…the list of gift suggestions for girls…

All Ages

  • Tickets to an event (ballet, baseball games, live theater, carriage ride and tea)
  • “A Day with Dad” and “A Day with Mom” voucher (lunch + fro-yo + movie = happiness!!)
  • Clothes (pajamas, robe, slippers)
  • Summer camp registration
  • Travel gear/luggage
  • Athletic apparel (leotard, swim suit/goggles)
  • Personal entertainment device (iPad mini, Kindle HD, 2DS XL, MP3 player)
  • Kitchen gadgets (ice pop maker, popcorn maker, measuring cups/spoons)
  • Things with wheels (bicycle, balance bicycle, tri-cycle, skateboard, skates, scooter)
  • Sports equipment (helmet/pads, balls, basketball hoop, zip line, swing set, pogo stick, golf clubs)
  • Furniture (bed, desk, playroom/toy storage, “hope chest” to store memory-heirlooms/artwork)

Ages 0-3

  • Books (Olivier Dunrea’s Gossie series, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, anything Dr. Seuss)
  • Puzzles (rock-a-stack, wooden peg puzzles)
  • Pretend play sets (doctor kit, baby care center, kitchen)
  • Melissa and Doug toys (Magnetic dress-up set, puzzles, play food, really anything M&D rocks!)
  • Music table
  • Easel, art supplies
  • Bounce house
  • Power Wheels
  • Dolls and accessories
  • Soft, cuddly bath towels

Ages 4-6

  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Rainbow Loom
  • Magnatiles
  • Dress-up clothes
  • Puzzles
  • Motorized car
  • Rollerskates
  • Legos/blocks (Friends sets, Duplo, Disney and Barbie series’ were offered as popular choices)
  • “My Very Own Library Card” for your child (and make a cute book of vouchers to redeem for weekly visits to select books at local library)
  • Books (Pinkalicious, anything Dr. Seuss)
  • FurReal Friends Pet (there are kitties, puppies, monkeys and horses)
  • Leap Frog reader/early reader/explorer
  • Dolls/character figurines and accessories (Hello Kitty, Doc McStuffins, Disney princess, American Girl, Barbie)

Ages 7-9

  • Dolls/character figurines and accessories (American Girl, My Little Pony and Disney were popular suggestions)
  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Hello Kitty beauty kit
  • Musical instruments (keyboard, karaoke machine)
  • Tickets to the ballet
  • Legos (Friends sets)
  • Dance classes
  • Sewing machine and gift certificate to local fabric store

Ages 9+

  • Clothes
  • Jewelry (monogrammed necklace, heirloom ring/necklace)
  • Tickets to show/concert (Broadway series, music, dance)
  • Gift cards to favorite retail store or movie theater
  • Bedroom re-do (let your daughter select new paint color for her bedroom and then paint it together!)
  • Paint-n-pour art class registration for daughter + a friend/sibling/parent (lots of cities are offering these one-night art classes where everyone paints the same image; class is led by a local artist/teacher)

Special thanks to all the parents who responded to the survey. You offered up some great ideas…especially those unique, memory-making “experience” gifts for girls!!!

Update: My mom thinks it’s unfair I put up ancient pics of my bro without putting ancient pics of myself…so here you go…





Check this out! 2013 Best Gift Ideas for Boys

Festive Puzzle Ornaments

Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” -Albert Einstein

I’m so glad to be blogging today and super excited to share this special craft with everyone. For the last few days our kitchen table (and almost every other surface within 10 feet) has been awash in paint and glitter…all in the name of these festive little nuggets of joy!

puzzle ornaments

I can’t quite remember what inspired this project…other than seeing holiday images in magazines and perusing the web for a kid-friendly craft idea. I wanted to create a set of cute ornaments to decorate a small tree just for Gemma. The art supplies I needed were already in my craft closet. Unfortunately, we had just donated some puzzles that would have been perfect for this project, so I had to find another set (which only set me back $1.50).

This craft is super cute and super easy to make. I hope you enjoy the tutorial and catch a creative bug this holiday season!

Festive Puzzle Ornaments


  • Large puzzle pieces
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paintbrushes (small and medium tip, firm and loose bristle)
  • Hole punch
  • Ribbon
  • Other materials you might consider: buttons, glitter, string, sticky-back jewels/pearls, glue, etc.

1. I found an inexpensive box of large puzzle pieces at a local kid’s consignment store. It helps to have a few ideas of what you want to create so you can set aside pieces with corresponding shapes before you start painting.

puzzle box

2. Grab your paint and give the pieces a base coat. White is a classic base for Santa, the Christmas Tree and angels. Green works well for the poinsettia and Rudolph. Red and blue are great for presents or gingerbread people. Feel free to play with colors…you can always paint over it if you don’t like the way it looks. Let your base coat dry completely before you start the next step.

puzzle craft paint

3. Use a pencil to faintly sketch the designs, then begin painting. Use the wider or fuller brushes to fill in larger spaces or blot in the paint to create textured looks (like on Santa and Frosty below); use the smaller, fine tip brushes for things like the eyes, noses, polka dots or other dainty features. Once the paint dries, you can embellish with goodies such as buttons, pearls or poms. If you are worried about materials falling off, you can give these a quick seal with glossy, clear Mod Podge (or for more festive-glittery goodness, use the Sparkle Mod Podge…and don’t worry, it goes on opaque but dries clear so only the glitter remains visible). Here are some pics of my ornaments as they were drying:

painted puzzle 3

painted puzzle 2

painted puzzle 1

4. Once your paint/topcoat and all glued adornments have successfully dried, use your hole punch and find a good spot to make your hole. Next, cut about 6-8″ of ribbon or fishing wire (or just use a simple ornament hook) to hang your new decorations. Before you use your hole punch, be sure to think about how each piece will hang on the ribbon. (I.e. I put a hole in the neck of my angels so when hanging, the ribbon covers their faces; I’ll be replacing the white ribbon with clear fishing wire for better viewing as they hang on the tree.) 

Here are my finished ornaments all snuggled into the lighted garland on my mantle. Can’t wait to let G hang these on her special little tree!!!

puzzle ornaments puzzle ornaments santa angel poinsettia puzzle ornaments stars rudolph puzzle ornaments frosty swirl puzzle ornament polka tree puzzle ornaments gingerbread santa puzzle ornaments frosty swirl present puzzle ornaments angels