Generic Gift Ideas: When One More Starbucks or iTunes Gift Card Won’t Cut It

Picking out Christmas gifts for my nearest and dearest is arduous enough; finding gifts for teachers, distant relatives or those people who “have everything” seems impossible sometimes. Here are a couple of ideas that I’ve come up with for this year.

First, my bargain gift thus far was one I found at my local Sam’s Club a couple of weeks ago:

This is a four-pack of assorted scented candles, and they come with ready-to-go gift boxes. Aromatique candles typically retail for about $12-15 just for ONE, because they smell all fancy-scmancy. I purchased this set for less than $20 and knocked four teachers’ gifts off my list. Woo Hoo!

A gift that would be great for newlyweds, a new homeowner, or anyone you’re stumped on is a personalized address stamp, like these from

These stamps could also be given as a couple’s gift, thereby stretching your budget just a wee bit further.

Along those lines, personalized stationary is never a bad idea. As a southern girl, I have an ingrained appreciation for personalized stationary. I’d much rather have that than a tchotchke that will turn into target practice for the Heathens’ Nerf guns.

If you happen to know whether your generic recipient is a wino, a Woozie is a cheap, cute gift:

Or a Corkcicle:

Those are just a couple of my go-to ideas that are generic enough without having too high a danger of re-gifting potential. If all else fails, and you have to go the gift card route, at least get a cute box to put it in. Slapping a gift card in a plain, white envelope is just tacky, ya’ll. Even if you put zero time and effort into your generic gift, you don’t need a crappy wrap job to advertise that fact like a Vegas neon sign.

The First Sign of the Apocalypse

Bean has her first tooth! It’s on like Donkey Kong now.

You know what’s next, right? Crawling. And once this little Heathen gets mobile, it’s every man for himself. She’ll have this house disassembled within a week.

However, first she has to overcome the simple principle of physics that hardwood floors do not provide the best traction. She’s attempted to work around this fact by simply rolling everywhere, but navigating around furniture proves to be elusive. I already had to fish her out from under an end table this morning.

It’s only a matter of time before she figures intentional mobility out. I foresee baby gates in my future…lots and lots of baby gates.

Where You Won’t Find Us Today

If you’re into Black Friday, more power to ya. As for me, watching people behave like Roman gladiators in order to snag a deal doesn’t exactly convey the whole “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” vibe. I’m all about a saving some cash, but not at the expense of my holiday cheer, sanity or safety.

So today, we are taking it easy. After an initial post-holiday clean-up, the Heathens and I are going to spend our day relaxing, watching Christmas movies and stuffing ourselves on leftovers.

Yes, that picture you see is the pie I had for breakfast. A leftover extravaganza is a marathon, not a sprint.

Thanksgiving Tips—What I Wish I Knew Way Back When

I’m about to be incognito for a bit, as we execute two out-of-town trips and Thanksgiving for 15-20 or so peeps, all within about four days. Before I go, I figured I’d pass along some tips, in case you’ve got a little hostess anxiety going on.

As I said in this post, hosting Thanksgiving is all about organization, and over the years, my family perfected our preparations into a well-oiled machine. I think that most people are intimidated by the sheer volume of small tasks that are associated with hosting a large Thanksgiving get-together, but if you break it down piece by piece and make lists, executing a perfect holiday meal is much easier than you think.

  • Do not underestimate how long that turkey will take to defrost. We cook a 23-25 pound turkey, and if I were serving it on Thursday, I’d move it from the freezer to the fridge on Saturday. Yes, it really does take five days for a bird that big. Whatever your turkey instructions recommend, add a day to the defrost time, just to be safe. There is NOTHING worse than realizing your turkey is still half-frozen on Thanksgiving morning.
  • Grocery shop as early as possible, saving only the absolute perishables for the week of Thanksgiving. I have everything but the vegetables bought no later than the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Also, shop very early in the morning, or very late at night. A congested store full of snarly shoppers will ruin anybody’s holiday spirit.
  • Thanksgiving Day is always hectic. Just getting the turkey, gravy, rolls and ham together is enough. Almost all of our side dishes and vegetables are casseroles or items that can be assembled the day before, then baked that morning. When planning your menu, don’t have too many dishes that require complex assembly at the last minute. You’ll end up unnecessarily frazzled, and will be more likely to make a mistake.
  • Since we prep most of the food the day before, I set up a table just outside of my kitchen and place every ingredient on it that we will use in the food preparation, grouped by dish. This saves time, because we aren’t digging through cabinets looking for stuff. We can move from dish to dish quickly and easily. Once we have all the prep work done the day before, the table can easily disappear back into our garage.
  • Without fail, I buy a couple of packages of cheap Glad-ware when I am buying the groceries. There is nothing more annoying than going to put the leftovers away and realizing that the Tupperware thief that hides in your cabinet has depleted your food storage stash. Ditto for Ziploc bags.
  • Every single thing that can be chopped, sliced, grated or prepped ahead of time should be. I place it all in Ziploc bags, so when we are assembling dishes, the process goes quickly. For example, I have four casseroles that call for chopped onion. Instead of stopping and chopping an onion each time, I do it all two days before Thanksgiving, then mix up the casseroles the day before.
  • Thanksgiving eve is not the time to test-drive new recipes. When you are hosting a crowd who is depending on you to have an edible meal, one bad experiment can ruin your day. If you want to try something new, give it a try ahead of time.
  • Unless your ice-maker is on steroids, you will most likely run out of ice. I have a clean ice chest that my husband fills with ice from the gas station so we won’t run out. If you don’t want an ice chest in the house, keep it on your deck, garage or carport. People would much rather hunt down the ice chest than suffer hot hooch.
  • Plan easy dinners for the entire week of Thanksgiving, so you aren’t overwhelmed with keeping your house going while trying to plan for the big day. If at all possible, we even eat out, or get take-out the night before, because by then, the tables are set and I need a break from the prep work.
  • I do a big housecleaning the weekend before Thanksgiving, so that by Thursday, I only need to run the vacuum and clean the bathrooms. If you clean as you go all week, you’ll have minimal stuff to worry about that day.
  • I set up a drink station far away from the kitchen. I have a small table, where I put the glasses, drinks and all the paraphernalia that goes with it. The last thing I need in the kitchen is a traffic jam of people hemming and hawing over their cocktail preparations, all while I’m trying to get a 25 pound turkey out of the oven without injuring myself. Some things are just not a spectator sport.
  • If you’re hosting kids, have something for them to do. I’m not saying you have to be their cruise director, but expecting young children to sit idly by and stare at the walls while the adults visit is unrealistic. Putting ten minutes of forethought into this issue will save you headache later.
  • Take ten minutes the day before to figure out your timing. What time are you serving? When does the turkey need to go in the oven? Have your schedule already planned, so on Thanksgiving morning, you only have to follow it.
  • Lastly, fix yourself a cocktail and chill out. As cliché as it sounds, the togetherness and memories are far more important than a magazine-cover-perfect meal. A sense of humor is the most valuable tool in your toolbox.

If you have any questions about hosting a big Thanksgiving, just leave a comment and I’ll be around. As for now, I better get back to Bean, who is letting me know in no uncertain terms that my presence is requested.

Separation Anxiety

Bean is going through a high-maintenance faze. I guess separation anxiety kicked in, because she freaks out if anyone other than my husband or I hold her. And by freaks out, I mean big pouty lips, followed by fat tears, topped off with a good dose of lung-clearing screams that the entire tri-state area can hear. This is incredibly inconvenient, because Granny just hit town, and my plan of throwing Bean at Granny and running away has been foiled. My fond fantasies of a haircut are circling the drain. Furthermore, this is Louisiana, and every stranger in the grocery store seems to think they just MUST hold/touch/jack with a baby. I’m running out of polite ways to say “please keep your dang hands to your dang self.” Shopping at Target is oh-so-fun when Bean has been worked up into an anxious frenzy by some well-intentioned but oblivious person who cannot take a hint.

She has also developed an unexpected fear of my camera, and acts like it’s a black alien trying to eat my face if I try to take her picture. I only got the above shot because Bear tried desperately to cheer her up. Most pictures this week look like this:

And this:

Notice those big, accusing tears of mommy guilt?

I hope this passes quickly. I would like my easy-going baby back. And that haircut.

My Thanksgiving Planner—Obsessive But Efficient

It’s no secret that I can be a little OCD about certain things, and holiday planning is no exception. I love hosting the holidays at our home, but I’ve learned that there is a very fine line between a memorable event and a stressful one. A few years ago, as I prepared for another massive Thanksgiving get-together, I finally took the time to compile my lists, recipes and menus into a single comprehensive planner. This took a little time and effort the first year, but now, I can have Thanksgiving planned in no time at all. Here’s how I did it:

First, I found a small binder and had G-Man color some artwork for the cover…what can I say? It bought me ten minutes of relative quiet. I also picked up some dividers and plastic page protectors, because my kitchen is a dangerous place.

The first section consists of my calendar/schedule page, which I use to plan the whole week of Thanksgiving and keep track of all my daily to-do’s:

(you can find that here). I keep these together, chronologically by year. I can see what tasks I completed each day, so I don’t have to wrack my brain to remember when I took the turkey out to defrost, or how I balanced cooking, shopping and cleaning.

Next, I have a section of menus by year, so I know exactly what we served each year:

(I use a template on Microsoft Word for that). Though our menu stays fairly consistent each year, I still find it useful to look back and compare as I plan the current meal.

The next section contains a master grocery list. On this page, I’ve listed each dish I’ve ever served, and every ingredient in it, so I can see how much I need to buy.

Then, of course, come the recipes, which are already multiplied into the correct proportions. Thanks to my Living Cookbook software, this only took about 30 seconds to accomplish:

If I end up with too much or too little of something, I can write it on the recipe, so when it’s time to plan the next year, I have a reminder that I need to adjust my portions.

Finally, I keep a section of Guest Lists, so I can remember who came each year, and how many people we served:

(you can find that here too).

So, yeah, my Thanksgiving planner may seem a little OCD, but as a person who can quickly transform from happy hostess to neurotic banshee, it is an invaluable sanity-saver. Well, that and copious amounts of chardonnay, but who’s counting?