Tag Archives: 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

2014 Holiday Gift Guide Banner
Welcome to our 2014 Holiday Gift Guide! Ideas! Tips! Reviews! Wine! (Seriously.) Giveaways! If it’ll help you find ideas, make your shopping easier, or stretch your budget, it’s in here, and I’ll be adding NEW items until December 1! Whether you are in charge of gifts for a gluttonous, consumer driven gift exchange or working ahead on birthday gifts or just looking for some special hostess gifts, you can find something here. I wish you a merry wrap up (see what I did there?) to 2014, and a joyful beginning for 2015. Mobile Friendly Version

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Personalized DIY Craft Kit Gifts

Personalized DIY Craft Kit Gifts for Kids Joy Makin MamasI love giving kids creative gifts. I even more love giving them open ended creative gifts. A kit that makes a particular item if you follow the instructions is great for introducing new skills or for skill building- but sometimes what they really need is encouragement to take materials and use them in a completely open ended way. And kids like things that are personalized with their own names, so, HUZZAH! I came up with these personalized, DIY craft kit gifts that are perfect for birthdays and holiday gifts- or “just because.”

Each of these kits was packaged in a dollar store organizer. They’re about half the size of a shoe box, but use whatever size you like. Apply the personalized labels with double sided tape or hot glue. (I also hot glued the catapult on top of the catapult kit.)

Peg people, if you’re not familiar with them, are dolls made from clothes pegs. One familiar version of this is the reindeer ornament, but they can literally be anything or anyone, with a little open ended creativity and some glue. Candidates for this kit are: Fabric scraps, glitter, beads, sequins, pipe cleaners, heavy gauge craft wire, and, of course, clothes pegs. Also called Doll Pins. Embroidery floss or fine twine would be great, too! 

As for the catapult kit, I included almost everything I mentioned in my post about building engines of minimal destruction, and then I topped the kit with one of our favorite designs. I created my kit labels to match the size of my containers. Lightweight card stock holds up well to being hot glued, and you can hand letter your label, cut letters from magazines, or use stickers or scrapbooking supplies if creating images or digital scrapbooking isn’t your thing.

More themes:

  • Gods eye/friendship bracelets can be created with craft sticks and yarn or embroidery floss and beads.
  • Gather old electronics and create a Robot kit for the serious tinkerer.
  • Build Your Own Rocket Kit (Some balloons, tape, string, rubber bands, cardboard toilet paper tubes, glue stick, foam craft sheets, glue, drinking straws, and Estes B4-4 Engine Pack (3-Each) will hook the recipient right up.)
  • Make a Rubbing kit- include newsprint paper and block crayons, colored pencils, chalk. Add a small thrift store frame to display the masterpieces- look for one with a plastic insert, or remove the glass.
    DIY craft kit gifts

You’re the greatest, Charlie Brown!

Charlie Brown Historical People Series Joy Makin Mamas ReviewMy eldest can be Bored IDon’tWanna McBordeypants Ruler of the BoredLandians, and if you say, “Let’s read a book,” he comes around instantly, and Little Brother follows right behind him. (I don’t want to say they take after their mother, but… they take after their mother.) He does have standards, of course- if he doesn’t like the way a book is written or the way the story is going, he won’t hesitate to inform you that there will be No More Reading Of The Hobbit Ever because he just can’t want to be part of this family when we read the Hobbit. (But if there’s a Lego version of it, though, that would be fine… I have no words.)

In other words, if you want him to learn about a particular topic or to be interested in a particular activity, a book (or rendering it in Lego, apparently?) stands an excellent chance of piquing his curiosity. Little Patriot Press has released three new story books that explore 250 years of American history.  Each book mentions five historical “great”s while featuring Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. They are designed exactly to capture a child’s interest, and then give them more information. (And when I was asked if I’d review them, of course I said yes- because unlike Bilbo, Snoopy rates two thumbs up even when he’s not Lego.) Each story mentions five historical figures within the character dialogue, and follows with an “appendix” giving an excellent overview of each person.

Each book focuses on a different area of historical knowledge. Who Cares, Charlie Brown? covers the roots of the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements. What’s the Big Idea, Charlie Brown? talks about the names behind five landmark pieces of technology, including the chocolate chip cookie. (Although the five are very popular and probably represent a good introduction, I’d have liked to see more than one woman mentioned in this one. For further reading, visit Women-Inventors.com.) Where Did You Go, Charlie Brown? will introduce your child to people who were instrumental in shaping the way we know our world, from Christopher Columbus to the moon landing.

The Peanuts stories and illustrations are very true to Schulz’s style, and will definitely please any fan of Charlie Brown and the gang. (Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for Lucy.) As a story book, straight out of the gate, these are enjoyable, and well written and illustrated. (I could say more about the illustrations, but really, if you are familiar with Peanuts, there’s nothing else to say. And if you’re not familiar with Peanuts… there’s way too much to say.) As a jumping off point to interest kids in historical people, they are excellent, with the one omission noted above.

 Further reading for interested minds:

What's the big idea, Charlie Brown Joy Makin' Mamas Review

The Little Boy Who Lost His Name

lost my name books Joy Makin' Mamas ReviewMy little guy is what they call a “pre reader.” He’s just at the stage where he’s learning to recognize his letters and to understand that they make sounds. (Yeah, it’s pretty cute when he tries to sound out “3.”) One of the objectives for kids at this stage of literacy learning is recognizing their own name.

The Little Boy (or Girl) Who Lost His Name books are personalized with your own child’s name. Not only does that make them more interested in the story, it helps with that very task: Name recognition. (I received my copy at no cost in order to facilitate this review.) Everyone knows that when a kid likes a book, you have to read it three or four times an hour until it mysteriously disappears, and I predict that constant repetition will pay off much more quickly than one has any right to expect.

I often find “personalized” books a bit lacking. They are frequently not very well written, and the addition of the child’s name could sometimes be considered a trite contrivance. But this story weaves each letter of the child’s name into the book, and the lovely artwork and the well-chosen words make a welcome change from books where the child’s name is just printed into a pre-written story.Lost My Name Book Letter K Joy Maknin' Mamas Review

Obviously exactly what takes place in your child’s book is determined by the letters of their name, but David Cadji-Newby’s prose is whimsical and sweet, with an underlying theme that discovering who you are is a great adventure. The multimedia (I think? I always try to identify the medium in picture books, but I’m underqualified and in this case, multimedia is my best guess. I particularly enjoy the the faces and the hair.) artwork by Pedro Serapicos is warm and adorable. The books are recommended for children ages 2-6, and I’d say that is spot on. These would make perfect “read aloud” books or beginning reader books.

The books are “100% independent and self-published,” which means that the people who benefit from the sale of the book are the creative people who made it happen- I like that. And worldwide shipping is FREE. (Free is my favorite price. And I hate paying shipping. So two thumbs up for that.) You’ll be able to personalize the dedication when you create your book, and it will print and ship within 7-12 days. Get yours at www.lostmy.name!Lost My Name Book Review Joy Makin' Mamas Collage FB optimum

Give your kids the universe… in a box!

Space Scouts Joy Makin' Mamas
If you think you don’t have the budget for international travel, well. Try outer space. (Obviously just kidding, I mean, you’ll be standing in that line a long time before the bouncer lets you on a space mission with a toddler, an elementary school kid, and the diaper bag.) I’ve always been fascinated by the constellations and the myths they’re named for, but even if you never see anything in the stars but shimmering dots, they are still pretty magical. And also entirely too far for a field trip. Even if you’re lucky enough to live within easy visiting distance of the Air & Space museum, you’ll probably still find that your kids have questions about the universe, and that your personal experience is a bit… limited… to just the one planet. (And if it’s not, please email me so we can set up a day for you to come visit my kids’ classes and talk to them, okay? No, I’m not kidding.)
Space Scouts Joy Makin' MamasThe Space Scouts monthly subscription service sent me two months of their program so I could share more about outer space with my kid. No bouncer required, and you don’t even have to drive to NASA. Not only do the activities talk about other planets and star systems, they also offer an opportunity to learn more about what it is that astronauts do. I want my kids to understand that the universe is vast and filled with endless possibilities- but I want to give them that information in installments they can absorb. (And yes, a great deal of their time has been devoted to the coolness of the bionic claw. That came in Month #2.)
Space Scouts Joy Makin' Mamas
In addition to some really cool fun stuff and a great science lesson, the activities in this box include problem solving, pattern recognition, reading, and abstract thinking. Compared to interstellar travel, the monthly subscription cost is a bargain. Your final cost varies depending on how you buy, but you can get it for as little as $14.25/month. Space Scouts is for ages 6 and up. Visit their website and learn more.

Picture Perfect Holiday: Photo Gifts from Collage.com

Collage.com custom photo gifts review Joy Makin Mamas
Have you ever had a picture SO special you wanted to put it everywhere? Yeah, me too. So when Collage.com asked me if they could send over a sample of their photo wrapping paper for a review, I knew exactly what I’d put on it. Who WOULDN’T want to receive a gift with the smiling faces of people they love on the wrap?

The wrap creation process on the collage.com website is very simple. Just upload your favorite photos and then drag them into the composition until you see something you like. When you’re ready, add it to the cart and check out. My sample roll arrived VERY quickly, packaged in a heavy duty shipping tube that protected it perfectly. I couldn’t have gotten it here in better shape if I’d hand carried it. The paper is also a good weight for wrapping, with a grid on the back. So no blown out corners (I hate that!) and less wasted paper. (There is nothing worse than looking at a big pile of scraps from misjudging the size of your boxes and at a 3″ gap on your last gift. Grid backs ROCK.)

Need more gift wrap ideas? Check out my Creative Gift Wrap Ideas board on Pinterest.

Follow Meghan Gray’s board Creative Gift Wrap Ideas on Pinterest.

Collage.com Aluminum Prints Review Joy Makin Mamas
Aluminum photo prints sit about 1″ from the wall and have a high gloss finish.

They were also kind enough to send along one of their Aluminum Photo Prints for my review. When I read that they would print my collage on aluminum, I was expecting something… rustic. There is nothing rustic about this item. The photo collage (just as easy to make as the photo books and the wrapping paper) is printed using some high tech process that makes the whole thing look like it’s been enameled. It’s as shiny as glass without being fragile. (Have you met my two favorite destroyers of all things breakable? They call me “mommy.”) It came with a hanger on the back AND a spacer to make it hang straight. The hanging system raises the panel about 1″ off the wall and gives it some depth. It’s a classy presentation that will allow us to enjoy this special family memory for years to come. As an added bonus, it’s very lightweight- I would be extremely confident using no-damage hooks to hang it on the wall. Collage.com provided these products at no cost to me to facilitate my evaluation. I have not been compensated for producing this post, nor did they request that I give anything other than my completely honest and forthright experience with these high quality items. Collage dot com GiveawayIf that sounds good to you, enter to WIN a collage.com code for your very own custom photo gift, through 12/16. Visit our sponsor: Web | Facebook | Twitter


You may use each entry once, and you may enter ONE per day!


Many thanks to Collage.com for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own. Joy Makin’ Mamas did receive products at no cost to facilitate the review of these items. No other compensation, monetary or otherwise, was received for the administration of this giveaway. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won this prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

Joy Makin’ Mamas and all other participating blogs are not responsible for prize fulfillment. Prize fulfillment is sole responsibility of the sponsor. No social media network, including Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, is in any away associated or affiliated with this giveaway. No purchase necessary to win.

Sweets to the sweet: Mrs. Cavanaugh’s Chocolates Review

mrs cavanaughs chocolates Joy Makin' Mamas review

Mrs. Cavanaugh’s chocolates sent me some of their most popular products at no cost to me so that I would review them. Which means they are my new favorite people, becasue anyone who sends me chocolate with strict instructions to eat it is my favorite. (WHAT? How else was I going to review them? I had to taste ALL OF THEM. It’s just dedication and attention to detail.) These chocolates are creamy textured and delicious. They arrived in excellent shape- it’s always a concern when perishables like candy are shipped, but they came through just fine. (I mean, don’t try this in July, okay?) These would make an excellent gift, and the individually wrapped candy bars are EXACTLY perfect for stocking stuffers. (If they last that long.) My chocolate experience says that these can hang in with higher quality chocolates. They may not be quite in line with the very priciest high end chocolate confections I’ve tasted (if you ever get a chance to do a chocolate tasting tour of New York City, I can recommend the experience… it was amazing!) but they are very, very good and will be well received by anyone who appreciates quality chocolates!

More information:

Right now you can Buy 1 lb Get 1 lb FREE of Mrs. Cavanaugh’s Chocolates use promo code: usfamily14 at http://www.mrscavanaughs.com/

mrs cavanaugh's logo

Time was when Marie Cavanaugh spent hours in her South Dakota farmhouse each Christmas season making pecan rolls and homemade chocolates for holiday gifting.

“It started when my aunt sent her pecan-rolls recipe,” Mrs. Cavanaugh recalled. “I gave the recipe my own touch and started making the yummy specialties. Then I began dipping chocolates. Our friends and neighbors loved these treats, encouraging me to start a candy business. Finally, I decided it might be a good idea.’”Mrs Cavanaugh's 5lbcleanbox

Her husband George and children Carla, Lorraine, Calvin, Colene and Genise rallied, helping Mrs. Cavanaugh fill demands for her homemade sweets.

…In 1972, the family moved to Utah, leaving good friends and their beloved cattle ranch.

“It was a difficult decision, especially for George,” Mrs. Cavanaugh said. “He was excited about making our new venture, which we chose to call Mrs. Cavanaugh’s Candies, a great success. We felt Utah was blessed with good chocolates and that we would enjoy – and could compete with – those who pride themselves on making excellent chocolates.”

Millions of pounds of chocolates later, Mrs. Cavanaugh’s candies have earned a reputation for unquestionable excellence….
Ask chocolate aficionados. They will direct those seeking the best chocolates to the popularMrs. Cavanaugh’s Candies.

MRs Cavanaugh's shipped