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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Some Updates

(This post contains affiliate links.)

October is off to a nice start.

buggy cover

We’ve been using the Very Hungry Caterpillar shopping cart cover I bought after the shopping trip a couple weeks ago that taught me why we needed one. As you can see, Bitsy seems to be really happy in it. The cart is more comfortable for her now, and there are loops to attach some of her favorite toys. It’s great to have some things for her to play with that she can’t throw out of the cart. Since she has her butterfly and fox, she won’t need to try to play with the groceries! And I feel more confident that she is secure in the cart.

buggy cover toys

The toys don’t come with the cart cover. These were some fun developmental toys gifted to me from my baby registry. They’re soft and cuddly, and are good for sensory development. Different parts make crinkly sounds when touched, and they have different textures and colors. The butterfly has a mirror, and Bitsy is sooo into mirrors right now.

Baby Rosary

baby rosary

We go to a mothers and babies playgroup each week. The children play together while the mothers chat. The head of family outreach does a wonderful job with this ministry. She creates a handout each week with the upcoming Sunday’s gospel, her own reflection and discussion questions. We read these together and pray together while the children play. This week we did this wonderful baby rosary craft. It was very easy, and gave us moms something creative to do with our hands while we talked. We used string, a plastic crucifix, and beads. Tape on the end of the string made it easier to run the string through the beads. The babies will enjoy feeling the different textures of the beads, and as they grow can say very simple prayers, like “I love you, Jesus,” “I love you, Mary,” for each bead. Now Bitsy gets to have her own rosary like Mama.

Fall is Coming Slowly

BITSYWALKING

Even though October is here, it’s still pretty hot. The mornings and evenings are a little cooler now, so family walks with Bitsy are much more pleasant now. Having her walk in shoes is going to be a process. They still feel awkward to her, and she prefers to be barefoot. She loves being outside and exploring. She chases her shadow, and stops to look at every little thing. She’s been reading The Poky Little Puppy a lot lately, so I tell her she’s like the Poky Little Puppy, stopping to learn about whatever she sees, hears, and smells. I tell her this is a good way to be: curious, and taking time to experience the little things.

I’m getting excited about Halloween. I don’t like to put up decorations too early. I’ll wait another week or two before I put up a Halloween wreath. I’ll make it in the next few days. Last year, Bitsy was adorable in her Wonder Woman costume. I’m really looking forward to taking her trick-or-treating this year, now that’s she’s so social.

Wonder Woman baby costume

Things are pretty busy with school right now, but I’ll get a little break between big assignments in a couple weeks. I’m taking Collection Development this semester. I’m working on a weeding assignment in which I choose items from a particular section of the library to weed. Weeding is one of the things I miss the most about working in the library, so this is like a dream assignment for me.

I hope you’ll all have a happy October. Even though I’m so busy, I will be slowing down and taking time to enjoy this fun season, and I hope to have plenty to share with you here.

 

 

Learning As We Go

I’m someone who’s been reading about child development since I was a child. I’ve always been interested in the subject intellectually , and knew I wanted to be a parent. I believe in preparing. When I found out I was having Bitsy, I started seriously researching the best baby products right away. My husband and I spent two weekends in Birthing From Within classes (a class and book that I highly recommend–It helped me advocate for the kind of birth I wanted, while also accepting that the birth didn’t happen according to my plan). I believe in doing all of these things, while also accepting that as parents, there’s so much that we learn by doing.

When I created my baby registries, I did not include a shopping cart cover. It just seemed so unnecessary. I’m not fussy about germs and public spaces. I thought I was too smart and cool to fall for the marketing of another new purported necessity. My child could handle sitting in the shopping cart like all the children of yesteryear. My child need not be afraid of the world.

That was before I had a wiggly toddler. 

A scary experience I had today showed me how wrong I was. I was grocery shopping with Bitsy today. She loves shopping with her Mama, looking around at all the colors, the people, the stuff on the shelves that must seem so amazing to someone for whom everything is so brand new. I was walking along, happy to find really great items in the clearance section, sales on items we needed, rebates on Ibotta, and beautiful fresh flowers to take home and arrange. I talked to Bitsy about everything we saw, and narrated what I was doing. All was well.

Then we approached the checkout line. She’s been a bit wiggly in the baby seat of the shopping cart, but I’d watched her and turned her back around when she twisted to look in the direction we were going. Just as we were getting in line, she got very fussy. I unbuckled the seat belt and tried to lift her, but somehow she had gotten her leg stuck between the bars of the cart. I tried but couldn’t get her leg out of there. She got scared and cried louder. I got scared, too. I told myself, okay if her leg would fit in here, we must be able to get it out, right? Some ladies saw our predicament and came over and tried to help. I started to freak out. What if her leg gets broken?! What if she loses her leg?! I had tried to keep calm for my daughter, but now I was crying. There were some paramedics in the store, and one of them came over to help. He had a little trouble at first, but finally we got her positioned just right, and he was able to carefully slide her leg out of there. I was so happy to have her out of the cart and hold her close. It all happened in a matter of minutes, but those minutes of fear and pain felt so long.

Bitsy fell asleep in the car, and I carried her safely on me in the ErgoBaby at the next store. When I got home from my errands today, I shopped online for a shopping cart cover. Those who know our love for The Very Hungry Caterpillar and all things Eric Carle, will not be surprised at how happy I was to find this wonderful Very Hungry Caterpillar Alphabet shopping cart cover. I was even happier when I saw that it is 20% off on Amazon today! I ordered it, and with my 2-day Amazon Prime free shipping, it will be here before we need to go shopping again! I’m so relieved.

cart cover

As we raise children, parents will find over and over again that we were wrong about some of our ideas and expectations. We have to be willing to learn. We also can’t let it hurt our egos. It doesn’t bother me that I learned I really need a product that I thought was a little silly and fussy not so long ago. We don’t know it all, and that doesn’t make us bad parents. I’m just glad that everything turned out okay today, and that there’s an easy solution to prevent it happening again. As a mama, I’m going to keep reading child development literature, keep preparing, but remain flexible enough to keep learning as I go.

This post contains affiliate links. 

Bitsy’s Very Hungry Caterpillar First Birthday Party,Part II (Theme, Food, and CAKE!)

Planning Bitsy’s first birthday was exciting and enjoyable. Selecting a theme is the best place to start, and so fun for me because I love themed events! Once I selected the theme I came up with so many ideas, some from others and some of my own. One of the hardest parts of planning, especially for me, is narrowing down big visions and choosing which ideas to leave out to make room for what will work best. Here’s what worked for us:

Theme

As I started thinking about Bitsy’s then-approaching first birthday party a couple months before the date, I considered a couple other themes, like Alice in Wonderland (“One”derland) and some cute trendy ones like unicorns and flamingos. Once I thought of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, my mind was made up! I knew it would be the perfect theme for Bitsy.  I stream for her on Netflix The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories, a half-hour program from 1993 featuring animated versions of classic Eric Carle books. She really focuses and interacts with it. The music and animation are beautiful. It’s calm, quiet, and soothing, unlike a lot of new cartoons. While we don’t want to encourage too much screen time for babies and toddlers, this is a short and educational program I highly recommend and my own little one really loves. If you don’t have Netflix, the dvd is available at Amazon. I read to her every day, and Eric Carle’s books are some of our favorites. We have the board book editions of several of them, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Since so many kids enjoy this story (read about its popularity and a delightful interview with the author here), Bitsy’s guests could all appreciate the theme. I think it fits so well with a first birthday, too, because it celebrates someone very small growing up.

Food

One of the most fun things about this theme is the food. The menu creates itself!  Party guests eat the foods the eponymous caterpillar eats. Label the foods with the lines from the story, and guests essentially read the story as they help their plates. Of course, the caterpillar eats lots of foods, many of them sweets. You have to make decisions about how to serve the foods from the book without serving way too much and having more sweet than sustenance. The party started at 10 am, so heavy hors d’oeuvres were appropriate (and so were the super-popular mimosas for the adults!). I had deviled eggs plated on Romaine lettuce to represent the little egg on a leaf at the beginning of the story. For cherry pie, I made a no-bake cherry cheese cake and cut it into petits fours. Instead of full slices of chocolate cake, I served mini-brownies. You could also make the birthday cake chocolate or change the language on the label to “one slice of birthday cake” instead of chocolate cake. Even though I love baking from scratch, I used boxed mixes and packaged snacks in this instance to free up my time for decorating and setting up party activities. The slices of Swiss cheese and salami were plated together with butterfly-shaped crackers. The best thing about this menu is it includes a lot of fruit!

food table

The Cake 

dessert table

So, I love baking cakes and don’t mind trying out elaborate recipes, but I don’t have the skills or tools for the kind of cake decorating I wanted. There are some really cute, easy-to-execute ideas for this theme which I considered and may work well for you. For instance, a caterpillar can be made from the smash cake and cupcakes, with the smash cake as the caterpillar’s head in red icing and green cupcakes for the guests make up the caterpillar’s body. Some great examples can be found here.

I allowed myself to splurge a little on the cake after browsing some of the beautiful creations made on the theme. I chose the same local bakery that made my delicious wedding cake. You only have your first birthday once and–I’m not ashamed to say–I teared up a little bit at first sight of this beautiful cake when I picked it up from the bakery. I saved in other areas of the party and don’t regret this splurge at all.

One mistake I made: turning on the light above the dessert table too soon, which caused the caterpillar’s head and one of the sun rays to wilt a little bit, as you can see in the picture. But, hey, the cake was still beautiful and Bitsy had a great time digging into her smash cake.

Smash cakes are a pretty new tradition, which you may not feel the need to include in your baby’s first birthday party. I’m glad I had one for Bitsy, though. Bitsy enjoyed digging into her cake, it provided a few minutes of entertainment for the guests, and made a great video to share with family who couldn’t attend the party. Bitsy’s approach to her smash cake was a little confused and hesitant at first, but she finally leaned in and took a bite. She bit straight off the cake a few times before getting her spoon and hands in there. It was so cute and made such a happy memory!

This post contains a few links to items I used and/or recommend from Amazon. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. In the next post, I’ll talk a little about decorations and wrap up the topic of the first birthday party.

 

 

 

 

Bitsy’s Very Hungry Caterpillar First Birthday Party (Part I: Birthday Fun for Little Ones)

Celebrating Bitsy’s first birthday brought so much joy! Some may feel  a first birthday party doesn’t matter much because the little one doesn’t understand she’s having a birthday party and won’t remember it, but I feel differently. A birthday isn’t just an opportunity for one to celebrate another year of one’s own life. It is also a chance for those who love you to celebrate you. Family, friends, and neighbors were happy to gather together to celebrate their love for Bitsy, and when she gets older she may happily look back at pictures from her first birthday party. Besides, I can honestly say that even though she may not have understood that a party was being thrown in her honor, she really had a great time! I made sure to have baby and toddler-appropriate activities that she and her guests would enjoy, and those activities really were a hit! Here’s what worked:

Ball pit

ball pit

This one was such a hit! The age range of most of the kids at the party was 11 months to 3 years. Even the one older kid had fun playing with the babies in the ball pit. Here’s what I did:

I ordered these play balls. They were one of the best deals I found on play balls, plus I liked that they’re BPA-free and the colors went well with the Very Hungry Caterpillar theme (more later on choosing the theme).

I kept my eye out for inflatable pools in end-of-summer clearance sales, but wasn’t finding any. I thus ended up buying the inflatable pool the day before the party. The pool I found was a lot bigger than I’d hoped for, but a very helpful Walmart associate helped me get it for almost half off the price by tearing the box a little for me! I guess it helps to shop with a cute baby 🙂

So I would say the one mistake I made regarding the ball pit was buying the pool after I bought the play balls and too late to order more play balls in time for the party. The one box of play balls I ordered didn’t fill up the pool, but that was totally okay. I added some bouncy balls and small pillows to fill up more of the space. In the end, I think it may have been better that way since it gave the little ones more space to crawl around and play.

The parents and kids loved this, and it ended up being the central activity of the party. The pool is 9-feet wide and parents could sit close by and supervise in the shade while the little ones could safely play in the ball pit. I highly recommend this idea for any baby/toddler party.

Feed-the-Caterpillar Tossing game

feed caterpillar

I wanted  to give a good party, not reinvent the wheel. Much of the planning of this party was done using Pinterest, and this is one of those ideas that originated there. It’s also important to me, once I get an idea from Pinterest, not to get too caught up in imitating it exactly. Start with the idea, then use the resources you have access to and your own creativity to execute it the best way you can. I used cardboard shipping boxes, two pieces of red poster board, construction paper, scissors, a box cutter, and my trusty hot glue gun to build this activity. The toy fruit for tossing into the caterpillar’s mouth was entertaining enough on its own for the youngest babies, and Bitsy’s been enjoying playing with it ever since the party.

fruit to toss

Bubble machine

This was an additional, last-minute touch I added when I saw the Blitz Bubble Blowout on sale. If you have little ones, you know how much they love bubbles. This added a lot of excitement to the party, and the bubbles were so pretty! My honest take: I’m glad I bought this. It was great for the party and will be fun to use for a long time to come. The one drawback is the frequency with which you have to refill it. One fill-up gets you several minutes of bubbles. You have to have some other activities to redirect the kids to so you’re not constantly refilling the bubble machine. The bottle of solution that comes with the machine got completely used-up during the party. If you’re going to use this toy, it’s a better deal to go ahead and buy the large refill bottle. I didn’t break into the big bottle yet, because when I ran out of the small bottle, the parents and I just told the kids that bubbles were over for the day. They were fine with it, because by then it was time for birthday cake!

I also planned a couple crafts in case it rained or the kids got bored and needed a new activity, but we ended up not needing them. I kept some of the craft materials to use later and returned others.

As you can see from the links, I got several items for the party from Amazon and recommend those items to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the birthday party theme, decorations, and food.