Be the Most Valuable Guest: 9 Hostess Gifts That Aren’t Candles!

The holidays are here, and with all the upcoming preparations and activities, some details may be forgotten. Don’t let gifts for your hosts and hostesses be one of them! Planning ahead and buying or making those gifts in advance makes it much more likely that we won’t have to stop at whichever supermarket is in on the way to their house for a last-minute fruit basket, bottle of okay wine, or the ubiquitous candle.

 

It’s the gift of having a gift to give away!

So don’t get me wrong, your host or hostess will certainly appreciate the candle, or bouquet, or fresh bread, if that what you choose to give them. But why not bring something unexpected, that the other guests didn’t already think of, something that won’t get regifted at their work holiday party’s Yankee Swap, something they’ll remember long after the party?

Something So Special

Here’s a list of some hostess gifts that may feel a little more special. Try some of these, or let the list inspire you as you brainstorm gift ideas for the very special hosts and hostesses you’ll visit this holiday season.

1) Something for Breakfast

After a night of entertaining, wouldn’t it be nice to wake up the next morning to a ready-made breakfast? Bring cinnamon rolls from a local bakery,  bake homemade banana bread in a pretty dish they won’t have to return, or prepare a jar of overnight oats with a pretty ribbon around it.

2) Something to Make Cleaning Up More Enjoyable

caldrea kitchen set

We get to see, hear, smell, and taste all the great work our hosts and hostesses put into entertaining: the food, the decorations, the playlists. The work we usually miss is all the cleanup that has to happen after we leave. Whether you’ll be sticking around to wash dishes while your host or hostess dries, or if they’d rather leave the cleanup to be tackled in the morning after a long winter’s nap, a luxe cleanup kit is a great way to thank your host and hostess for all their hard work. Let the scents of  nicer-than-their-everyday cleaner and dish soap become tied to their happy holiday memories.

Start with a set of cleaning products, like this luxurious kitchen set by Caldrea. It includes a dish soap, hand soap, and countertop spray. Give these items in the Gilded Balsam Birch scent to help your hosts and hostesses stay in the holiday spirit while they clean. Throw in a nice cleaning brush like this one from Full Circle, or a kitchen towel set from the Pioneer Woman collection. Put it all together in a pretty basket.

3) Spices

I don’t know about you, but I go through quite a lot of spices this time of year. Preparing all the foods for their holiday party or meal may have put a dent in your host’s and hostess’s spice rack, too. Replenish it with an organic spice kit, to help them save another trip to the grocery store and avoid starting the new year with bland foods. Like the other gifts on this list, a basket and pretty ribbon make these items an extra special gift.

4) Something that will last for years: Amaryllis bulbs

amaryllisgift

The first Christmas gift I gave my now-father-in-law was a set of amaryllis bulbs to be forced indoors. They’ve come back beautifully every year since, and he always talks about what a great gift it was. I love the way amaryllis brighten up our homes for the holidays, and really believe in giving these as hostess gifts. You should be able to find them at local retailers this time of year, but if you want to be prepared there are some very reliable companies I trust for ordering bulbs online: White Flower FarmTulip WorldJackson and Perkins, and Colorblends. This is a gift for a real gardener or flower-lover, since the bulbs of course won’t look flashy when you give them.

5) Something Hot to Drink

Help your hostess end the night with comforting hot drinks. Start with a nice mug, and add hot chocolate and marshmallows, a variety of hot teas, or coffee beans from your local roaster. There are some great hot chocolate gift sets available. Harney and Sons teas in their attractive tin containers make a great choice.  Hot Cinnamon Sunset is one of my favorite blends, especially in the winter.They also offer some flavor variety selections. You could even go all out and give them a cast iron teapot or French press.

foxmug

6) Something Grown-Up to Drink

Instead of another bottle of wine, how about a specialty cocktail book? To your well-read hostess, give Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails With a Literary Twist.  Make it retro with Vintage Cocktails or Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans. There’s even a book of cocktails based on different fandoms called The Geeky Chef Drinks: Unofficial Cocktail Recipes from Game of Thrones, Legend of Zelda, Star Trek, and More. These can add some fun to everyone’s night, and give your hosts and hostesses more cocktails to try for many parties to come.

tequila mockingbird

 

7) Aprons

An apron is an especially good hostess gift if you know your hostess will be baking Christmas goodies in the coming weeks. This is another gift to be used year after year. I love these by Neoviva, which can be purchased individually or in Mommy and Me sets. Think of all the happy memories of teaching little ones in the kitchen she can make as they wear these gifts from you!

mommy and me aprons

 

8) Something Fragrant

incense set

If you still want to avoid the candle, but home fragrance is your favorite way to thank your hostess, why not give incense? A set of incense sticks, like this beautiful one by Karma Scents that includes a burner in each box, should last longer than a candle and won’t be so expected.

9) Something Homemade

Taking the time to make something that will be useful to your host or hostess shows that you really gave your gift some thought and appreciate their hospitality. Something that is not too hard to make, can really come in use this time of year, and feels special is homemade crème fraiche. I started making my own last year, and it is so nice to have for recipes or even just to replace sour cream as a condiment. I prefer it to sour cream. It has a more mild, pleasant taste. All it takes is heavy cream and buttermilk. Here are some good directions at Food and Style. Just remember to make 12 to 24 hours ahead so that it has time to get nice and thick, and put a pretty bow with a small Christmas ornament on it before you hand it to your hostess!

I hope you’ll enjoy spending time with friends and family this season in their homes and yours. Give any of these gifts and I think they’ll be sure to invite you back next year!

(Many of the links in this post are to Amazon listings for the items I recommend. As an associate, I earn from qualified purchases.)

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Something We Read: Rooster’s Off to See the World

Rooster's Off to See the World

Picture Book Month

November is Picture Book Month, a time to celebrate picture books for their importance in developing literacy, and the joy they bring us as readers. Bitsy and I enjoy picture books together every day. In celebration of Picture Book Month, I plan to do some extra posts about the children’s books we read. This week we read a book that is an excellent example of the great work that can be done by authors and illustrators in this format: Rooster’s Off to See the World, by Eric Carle.

Reading Together

This story is one adults can enjoy as much as children. Bitsy loves the different voices I do for all of the animal characters. The colorful illustrations are so appealing to little ones, and I love Eric Carle’s distinctive collage style.

rooster's illustrations

The story is so clever. A rooster awakes one morning and forms the notion he would like to travel. “So, right then and there, he set out to see the world.” As he walks along on his journey, the rooster meets other animals who accept his invitation to travel the world. Cats, frogs, turtles, and even fish swimming in a brook form the travel party.

rooster's travel party

Cocksure as one would expect a rooster to be, he made no plans or preparations for his bold endeavor at world travel. The animals soon feel the deprivations of an ill-prepared trip, and one by one each group of animals abandons the trip and returns home. The rooster ends up alone again, finds himself hungry and homesick, and returns to the comforts of home as well. In the end, he falls asleep and has “a wonderful happy dream–all about a trip around the world!” This is a good place to ask your little one what you think the rooster will do next: will he be satisfied with dreaming about seeing the world, or will he make real travel plans and try again?

Rooster's dream

While the book is good for teaching counting, addition, and subtraction, it does so in a very subtle way–the main focus is the story. The illustrations include a visual in the top corners showing the growing, then declining number of animals on the trip as each group of animals joins or leaves the party.

counting with rooster

One rooster is joined by two cats, then three frogs, four turtles, and five fish. The fish, then the turtles, followed by the frogs, and finally the cats take their leave of the rooster, until there is just one animal present again. The way this is done through illustrations shows just how important picture books are to early learning.

As you can see in several  other posts here, Bitsy and I love Eric Carle books. This is one of my favorites, though. I like the distinct personalities of the different animal characters, and the humorous tale. The rooster, with all of his colorful feathers, must have been a particularly fun animal for Carle to illustrate, and stands out to me as one of the most beautiful of his illustrations. I highly recommend this one for your child’s collection.

(This post contains an affiliate link.)

 

Something We Read: Little People, BIG DREAMS

Little People, BIG DREAMS: Ella Fitzgerald by 

Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Illustrated by Bàrbara Alca

ella

Just look at that adorable cover!

Bitsy seems really drawn to this cute illustration of little Ella Fitzgerald, and often carries  this book around with her and brings it to me to read to her. At this toddler stage, sitting still for a whole book can be difficult. If a toddler is having trouble sitting still for an entire story, that’s okay. It better to skip some sentences or whole pages, or let them run around while you read, than to make them sit still until you finish the book. You want to help them develop a love of reading, not make it a chore. I do sometimes miss the days when I could read her books with longer, more complex stories than the ones in her board books, whenever I wanted. For whatever reason, Bitsy seems to stay pretty engaged with this book, though. I think she likes Ella’s friendly face and the colorful illustrations.

This one is fun for adults, too. There are little references for us to enjoy, like Ella’s mother reading Mrs. Dalloway. It gives us a lot of music to explore. At the beginning, we see a musically-precocious little Ella Fitzgerald listening to the Boswell sisters on vinyl. This group was a new discovery for me, and fortunately you can find their collections on Youtube, including what fans in the comments say are pretty rare, deep cuts.

We also learn about Ella Fitzgerald’s collaborations, band, and solo work, including illustrations of her album covers. What a great way introduce one of America’s greatest singers to children! Bitsy is so drawn to music, and this book has prompted me to play some of Ella Fitzgerald’s music for her.

 

The story is a very positive one about overcoming adversity and following your dreams. It does briefly touch on some difficult events in Ella’s life–her mother’s death, skipping school, being sent away to “a strict school as punishment,” and running away from home. It doesn’t dwell too much on these events and topics, and tells about them in a way that I believe children can handle.

Little People, Big Dreams

This series features the stories of women who have achieved great things. It follows their stories from childhood, showing little ones that we all start small, but can accomplish a lot if we dream big and follow those dreams. The books are written for young children, but are enjoyable for all ages. According to this interview, the author was inspired to write books about female heroes to fill a gap she discovered when looking for books to read to her nieces.  There just weren’t as many books about real-life, strong, courageous women as she’d found about men. The books aren’t just for girls. They are about dreamers, and intended for all children.

Vergara writes all the books in the series, but works with different illustrators. I loved all the illustrations in the book about Ella Fitzgerald. One page really stood out for me for the way Alca illustrates Vergara’s figurative language. Ella Fitzgerald’s “velvety voice wrapped around the audience like a blanket.”

blanket

I am so excited to keep sharing stories in this series about the lives of great women with Bitsy. I think the next Little People, Big Dreams we’ll read will be Rosa ParksMother Teresa, and Jane Austen. There are many from which to choose in this series, and you can probably find the stories of some of your heroes to share with your children.

This post contains some links to Amazon listings for the books discussed. As an associate, I earn from qualified purchases. 

Something We Read: Baby Faces Books

babyfaces books.jpg

This post contains links to Amazon listings for products discussed. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

Now that Bitsy can walk and bring me books to read to her, I’m really enjoying seeing which ones capture her interest–the ones she wants to read over and over again. Babies love looking at pictures of other babies, and lately Bitsy has been bringing me her books with photos of babies quite often. These are very appropriate books for her at this stage. It can be hard for a new walker to be still and focus for a long time, but these books are short and sweet, and the babies’ faces capture her attention. I love seeing her react to the babies’ different facial expressions.

The two we’ve been reading a lot this week are Goodnight, Baby by Rourke Board Books ,and Hugs & Kisses by Roberta Grobel Intrater from the Scholastic Babyfaces seriesHugs & Kisses features real parents and babies showing affection. I like to read her this one we snuggle at nap time, night time, or when we wake up in the morning.

Goodnight, Baby is one we borrowed from the library that will be hard to return because she has gotten pretty attached to it. I may have to order a copy, which we often do when she loves a library book this much. Fortunately, there are used bilingual English/Spanish editions editions available on Amazon for under $6.

The pictures and text in Goodnight, Baby are adorable and sweet. It’s perfect for helping a baby or toddler settle down for the night. I let my voice get softer as I read each page, and this seems to be very soothing for Bitsy. My only complaint is that in two places, the book ends sentences with prepositions. I’m just picky about stuff like that, but Bitsy and I enjoy this book so much, I’ll have to let it slide. I just correct it as I read, saying “Put away your toys,” in place of “Put your toys away.” I’m nerdy. My husband calls me Diane Chambers.

Bitsy also loves seeing babies’ faces in her favorite Youtube video. It’s video of the Suzuki Songbook 1 for violin, with toys, animals, and children smiling & playing. Bitsy is very interested in music, and we enjoy this video together almost every day. She smiles back at the babies, and laughs, claps, and points when she sees the toys and animals she likes best. Give it a try with your little one here:

 

 

Something We Read: Family Storytime With Winnie the Pooh: Surprise Tails

Bitsy is fascinated with her books. She is now at a stage in which she finds a book and brings it to me, saying, “Read!” in that sweet baby voice. A book-loving mama could not be more pleased!

Yesterday, one of the books she brought me was Winnie the Pooh: Surprise Tails, which turned out to be a fun surprise for us.

Winnie the Pooh Surprise Tails.jpg

Bitsy’s daddy was home for a lunch break. He heard us reading this story in which Eeyore is the main character, and having recently found his old harmonica, played a blues lick for each of the old grey donkey’s lines! This was so fun for all of us. The music enhanced the story, but most off all it was fun for the three of us to be goofy, laugh, and share a story together. You don’t have to be musicians–we aren’t–to include a little music when reading to your baby.

The touch-and-feel features in this board book are so interesting to a baby. The first page has a tiny mirror, and Bitsy is soooo amused by her reflection now. My favorite is the wooly tail Kanga knits for Eeyore.

kanga

Sharing this little moment together was so special for us. I hope you’ve been finding little ways to make reading to your baby fun for the whole family. If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

This post contains a link to an Amazon listing for the book discussed. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

Something We Read: I Am a Bunny by Ole Risom, illustrated by Richard Scarry

reading i am a bunny

I love each season. I’m happy to see the new ones come, and experience little moments of melancholy as I watch each one end. The cozy times spent indoors in the winter are replaced by the vibrant colors of spring. Lush, green, carefree summers fade into crisp, quiet autumn. Each season has its own beautiful fragrances. My favorite summer aromas are tomato vines and fresh basil. I had one of those brief, melancholy end-of-season reveries this week when I was gathering basil for a light summer pasta and saw that this year’s basil is coming to an end.

last basil of summer

I’ll miss the smell, the taste, and the experience of walking outside to the small kitchen garden to collect basil for our food, but I thought happily of what good use we derived from the plants this year, how much we enjoyed them. This summer has been a particularly special one, with Bitsy’s first birthday, a trip to celebrate a centennial birthday in the family, first steps, and first visits to the pool. It’s now time to start ordering bulbs to chill and plant in the late fall/early winter. All year long, I look forward to my spring tulips and hyacinths. I hope to share this love of the changing seasons with my daughter. It has brought me so much joy and reassurance through changing times all my life.

One way I can share this love of the seasons with Bitsy is by sharing with her one of my favorite books from childhood, I Am a Bunny, by Ole Risom, illustrated by Richard Scarry.

iamabunny.jpg

My adults read this book to me so often when I was a baby/toddler that I memorized it then, and have memorized it again now as it has become Bitsy’s favorite. The illustrations are beautiful, the tone is peaceful and happy, the text sweet and concise. Nicholas, the titular bunny, enjoys the entire year by finding something beautiful in the natural world to celebrate in each season.

He picks flowers and chases butterflies in the spring, blows dandelion seeds in the summer, watches falling leaves and snow, and enjoys seeing wildlife in every season.

chasing butterflies

Readers are reminded that winter is not the end, that the cycle begins anew, when Nicholas curls up to for a winter’s nap and dreams about spring.

dreamsaboutspring

Sharing this beloved book with my daughter, seeing her love it, too, helps me to see the beauty of change and the passing of time, just as the changing seasons do. My mother and I bonded over this book, now Bitsy and I love reading it together over and over again. I am reminded of my grandmother, how she would take me outside in the afternoons and point out the plants and animals we saw, helping me to share in her love of nature and watching things grow. I remember picking flowers for her from our yard.

This book is pretty in a very simple way. There is no major action, exciting plot, or gimmick, just a poetic love of the natural world and a gentle character who finds pure joy in all seasons. It is so dear to me, and I hope you can share it with the little ones in your life. Even more so, I hope you get to share with them the books you loved most as a child. What better way to pass on to children a love of reading?

This post contains a link to an Amazon listing for the book discussed. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

“Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”–Philippians 4:8 

 

Something We Read: Sense and Sensibility for Your Little One

Children’s literacy is one of my passions. Start reading to your children early and do it regularly! It helps them develop important preliteracy skills and a love of reading, and even more importantly, is a wonderful way to bond with the little ones we love.

I’ve been reading at least one book to Bitsy every day since her birth, and keeping a journal of all the books read to her. My hospital bag included two books to read to her during our stay. I’ll never forget my mother reading Home for a Bunny, one of my childhood favorites, to Bitsy on her first day in the world.

As a weekly feature on Fridays, I will share with you one of the books Bitsy and I read together during the week.

This post contains links to Amazon listings for the books discussed in it. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Something We Read This Week

Sometimes Jane Austen is the best self-care. My schedule this summer has been busy and often sometimes very stressful (don’t take two summer classes with a newly-mobile baby while traveling out of state on the baby’s first flight!), and while I have a big bag full of exciting new books from my library, and plenty of required reading for my MLIS courses, there are times I just need to go back and reread a good Jane Austen novel to make everything feel better. Books we read repeatedly throughout our lives can take on new character and meaning with our own changing attitudes and experiences. My feelings toward Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, for instance, have grown more sympathetic over the years.

During a family trip to the shore this summer, I reread Mansfield Park, the Austen novel I’d gone longest without rereading. Later, I wanted the satisfaction brought by the triumph of wise, patient Elinor Dashwood and, let’s be honest, the sense of superiority over the foolish, bad-mannered characters the narrator so bitingly ridicules, so I’ve been enjoying my beloved clothbound edition of Sense and Sensibility. Which brings me to my choice for one of Bitsy’s books this week:

Sense and Sensibility: An Opposites Primer

opposites primer

How fun for Bitsy to have her own version of the book her mama is reading! I read it to her, then handed the sturdy board book to her so she could play with it while I read my own. She loves to play with her books, turning the pages, pointing to pictures, and vocalizing.

books on floor

She also loves pulling all the books off her bookshelf and throwing them on the floor.

The format is like any other first book of opposites, but what better way to teach my child the concepts of big and little than through the examples of Norland Park and Barton Cottage?

BigLittle

And who wouldn’t want to get an early start sharing their favorite novels with their child? The book is as amusing for parents who are fans of Jane Austen as it is for little ones. Here’s Marianne Dashwood playing the pianoforte the only way it should be played–passionately:

NoisyQuiet

Sense and Sensibility: An Opposites Primer is part of the BabyLit series. I first discovered the series on a visit to a small local bookstore. What a boon to a literature-loving parent’s heart! All the books in this series are so clever, attractive, and well-made. I only bought this one that day, though it was hard to leave the others behind. I’ll definitely add more of them to our collection soon.

Does your little one have any books in this series? Which ones are your favorites? Let me know in the comments! I love discussing books and discovering new children’s lit!