Monthly Archives: November 2015

7 Gifts I Gave in 2014: Ideas for Your 2015 Gift-Giving


If you’ve ever read my posts around the holidays, you’ll know that I’m a fan of personalizing gifts.

I don’t mean just putting someone’s name on a gift, although that can work, too! What I truly mean is finding a gift that illustrates your relationship or shows that you really know that person. If you are giving a gift to someone who lives across the miles and are unsure what they already have because you don’t see them on a regular basis, these gift ideas might give you a bit of inspiration, too!

Here are 7 unique gifts I gave in 2014…


1) Magic Photo Mugs from Printer Pix

Last year, we ordered these special photo mugs for our parents. They are black, but your designated photo appears when you fill the mug up with hot liquid!

We got a pretty sweet deal through Living Social last year {just $7 each plus $5 shipping!}, although I am sure you can find other deals online. I was a little worried about quality because they were so highly discounted. But they turned out fantastic! We used photos of Sophie and Shamrock and labeled these as gifts from them.

One word of caution – these take a long time to ship.

Here is our experience: Last year, when I bought them, it said that they would take approximately 21 days to arrive. For us, this meant the mugs would arrive a few days after Christmas. {I am not sure if that has changed now if the company has grown and they have more staff/better turnaround. Check the website before purchasing.}

Every year, we send a holiday box with gifts to Rob’s parents in Michigan. For these mugs, we put a note in the box that Shamrock and Sophie had something on the way that would arrive just after Christmas. When I ordered the mugs, I shipped them directly to his parents. We spend Christmas with my family in Green Bay every year, so I had my parents’ mugs shipped straight to their house. I informed them if a package arrived for each of them before Christmas not to open it. My intention was to wrap them upon our arrival.

All mugs arrived before Christmas…

the last one on Christmas Eve at my parents!

Rob’s dad called and said to him, “Why thank you, son. But I’m not quite sure why you got us black mugs.” HA! Rob told him to wait and just use them for their coffee the next morning. Sure enough, we got a lovely message filled with joy from Rob’s mom the next morning gushing about how much they were enjoying their coffee in their new mugs.


2) Towels

Laugh all you want that I got this idea when I was cleaning! I really can’t stand how gross dish towels get over time and started thinking that I should buy a new batch every six months or so. But I just hate spending money on those sorts of things!

“If only someone would buy them for me,”

I daydreamed.

Then, the light bulb went on! I bet someone would appreciate that themselves…

However, I took it one step further… I had this idea to get my brother’s family all their very own soft, comfy, over-sized bath towel, each in their favorite color so that they could differentiate. {See how I personalized those?!} Who wants to buy more bath towels for their family of six? I certainly wouldn’t! I’ve been using the same bath towels for longer than I care to admit. But if you buy the really good quality ones, they do last a long time. You wouldn’t believe the sales on these this time of year, too. For the record, these gifts were from Sophie and Shamrock, too. 🙂

towelsBefore, I did this, I ran the idea past my mom to make sure it wasn’t too strange. She loved it and agreed with me that she hates buying dish cloths and towels, too. So that’s one gift got this year as well!


3) Personalized Growler

There was a Groupon for Red Envelope last year of which we took advantage. Have you ever shopped there? There is a lot of unique stuff you can personalize; but it can be a bit spendy. This personalized growler was perfect for my dad!


You supply the last name, city, state and year. We used 2014 to indicate the year we gave the gift. You could use your recipient’s birth year or, if they brew their own beer, the year they started brewing!

Because it had to be personalized, this one took a while to arrive and was delayed a bit. Luckily, it arrived the evening of December 22nd, so I could run to Indeed Brewing and fill it up with some Stir Crazy Winter Ale for just $10. Luckily, Indeed fills growlers that are not their own. Not all breweries will do this! The beer just had to be consumed in approximately 4 days. Dad shared it with us on Christmas Eve.

Tip: Make sure to order any personalized items well in advance because they take longer!


4) Something Very Personal to You

Last year on Black Friday, we pulled out our Christmas tree and other holiday decor. Then we got really motivated and cleaned out our basement storage! Well, Rob came across all of his baseball cards he collected as a child. There had to be at least 20 to 30 of those long old-school boxes! We wrapped two giant boxes filled with these for our teenage nephew who plays baseball.

Rob really couldn’t think of any need for them, nor did he want to go through them and determine any value. So he put my brother’s name on the box as well as Jake’s and it was one of the last gifts to be opened. Rob beamed when Jake exclaimed, “This is the best present I ever got!”


5) Something from Your Travels

I remember when I was a kid and my dad come back from his annual summer fishing trip in Canada. He didn’t really bring back any gifts. {Well, I think he did get my mom a Canada sweatshirt once.} He was usually in the boonies fishing!  However, he usually did give us a Canadian dollar bill or coin upon his return.

As a kid, I loved this because it was so foreign to me.

I once read that you shouldn’t have to worry about getting gifts while on vacation and just enjoy yourself instead. You are not there to be stressed about what to bring back. I remember feeling that anxiety on my first trip to Paris. Since I read that advice, I’ve taken heed to it. Nobody expects anything.

However, when we were in Australia last year, we picked up a few small, affordable souvenirs, with no real idea of who exactly would get them. This included boomerang key chains, clip-on koalas, Vegemite, t-shirts, etc. I divvied these up as appropriately as I could after we returned. We also had four remaining 20-cent Australian coins with the platypus on the back. Perfect for the kids! All you need is something little.



6) Ornaments

While putting up the tree last year for the first time in a few years, Rob and I had a wonderful time reminiscing about each ornament as it went on the tree – the ornaments from our travels, from friends and from the past few Christmases with my family.

But what I love the most is seeing Rob’s face light up every time he pulls out an ornament from his childhood.

You see, every year, Rob’s mom bought him an ornament {oftentimes reflecting something going on that year or something he loved or was into that year} and marked the year on it with a Sharpie. When we moved into our house, Rob’s mom gave him all of these ornaments. These are some of our most precious possessions.

Last year, Rob’s mom sent him the first toy she ever got him. She suggested we put it in the tree each year. That bunny melts my heart!


In fact, I wouldn’t have much of any holiday decor if it weren’t for my mom giving me her old artificial Christmas tree and Rob’s mom giving me so many decorations from Rob’s childhood. Combining that with a few of the things I’ve picked up over the years makes our house look festive.

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I decided that this was what I was going to do for my brother’s family. Each year, I will give them a special ornament. My mom and I have already been doing this on and off for the past few years or so. How much easier and more sentimental is it to have these ornaments when you move into your own home and set up your own tree than to have to buy everything from scratch?!

Here are some links for some great ideas in creating your own homemade ornaments:

Not crafty?

You could also buy one that is meaningful to you or relating to your gift recipient this year. Last year, for time’s sake, I bought some frame ornaments marked 2014. For our parents, I added a photo of us in Australia with a koala and  another one of Sham & Sophie.

The ones for my brother’s family were from the time they visited us and we dined at Burger Jones. At Burger Jones, they have these crazy pictures on the wall of people eating burgers. I’m not talking about pictures of people who came into this restaurant to eat burgers. No, these are stock photos on the wall!

When we were there, the kids were trying to recreate the photos of people taking big bites of their burgers or eyeing their fries longingly. My original plan was to frame these pictures for their own photo wall at home. However, I finally decided against that idea because the pictures are creepy enough at Burger Jones. Instead, I put them each in a 2014 frame ornament as a memory. A little less tacky, no?!


7) Homemade Dog Treats

I had fully intended to make homemade dog treats for my brother’s dogs last year! But I ran out of time, so the poor dogs went without a thing. This past year, I have tried these two recipes with much success! Now, let’s hope time doesn’t escape me before our trip to Green Bay.

And our dogs always receive their December BarkBox wrapped up under the tree. For our last review and a discount, click here.


There you have it – some unique gift ideas for this holiday. Also, it’s Cyber Monday, so today it’s even more important than ever to use eBates when doing your shopping – extra discounts, promo codes and cash back.

And for even more ideas, here are some of my past posts on holiday gift ideas:


Peas in a Pod!


Sophie & Shamrock Saturday

I’d love to tell you that Sham and Sophie are back to being two peas in a pod and playing all of the time. But that is not the case. Sham still looks at Sophie longingly and Sophie still refuses to play. I wish everything would go back to the way it was. Or I could figure out just what happened for Sophie to not want to play with Shamrock ever again…

In any case, they are still loving their BarkBox!

They both know the word BarkBox now just as well as they do treat! And when I open it, paws ultimately end up on my lap.


November’s theme:


What does that even mean? I didn’t even think about it much longer because the pooches were just so anxious to tear into the box!


The Squash is like a KONG, in that it’s a durable rubber toy that you can stuff treats or peanut butter into. I’d kind of forgotten about our dogs’ KONGS, as they’ve been stuffed away for some time. I’m not even sure if Sham’s had one! The last time we’ve used KONG may have been back when we had Benny.

I was sure to rectify that this weekend! In the end, Sophie was sure to get every lick of peanut butter out of her KONG and then turned and took Sham’s leftover Squash. I think he’s not so sure about that thing.

As for this month’s treats…


I love a company that gives back. And S&S loved these treats!

There were two chews in this month’s box!

IMG_4964 This meant that they each could have one and I didn’t have to save one until next month. After opening, I let Sophie pick which one she wanted. She pranced around the house with it without even chewing it for a while!

But this month’s BarkBox toy might have been the best of all…


You see, Sham is a fan of little tennis balls. He also is fan of little soft toys that are the size of a small tennis balls and chews on them gently. That is why we have another name for Shamrock – Mr. Nibbles!!

What makes this toy so wonderful is that the three little peas come out of the pod.

It was actually Finnegan that discovered Sham liked the innards of these types of toys so much. One year, they got a Cornucopia in the BarkBox, which I didn’t post on for some reason.

barkbox cornacopia

Sham played with it a little bit. When Finnegan was over, he was a little less gentle and got all of the veggies out of the cornucopia! We didn’t even realize that they came out!

cornucopia contents

Sham is now in love with those little plush pieces! We would have never known that those pieces separated from the cornucopia if it weren’t for Finnegan.

For the record, the peas {out of the pod} are strewn all over the house, most likely under the couches at the present moment.

I hope that the December BarkBox arrives before we depart for Green Bay for Christmas. We have a tradition of wrapping it and giving it to the dogs after everyone has opened their gifts.

In fact, a BarkBox makes a perfect gift for all of the pooches and doggie lovers in your life. Here are all of the ways you can give….


Cyber Muttday? Good one. Also, if you click Sophie and Sham’s referral link here, BOTH you and they will receive a free month of BarkBox! We’ve had the box for over two years and it’s the only subscription box we haven’t canceled. In short, we love it.

Happy Saturday!


Best way to end a cali vacay


On our last day in California, we spent a very enjoyable day outdoors.

This trip to visit our friend Shondra was perfect in that we all like wine, the Packers and golfing. That doesn’t mean we are all good at golfing {namely, me}, but we all enjoy being outdoors.

It just so happens that Shondra works on a golf course and scored us a sweet round overlooking the ocean!


I love these shots of Rob’s golf swing and Shondra looking on…

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As expected, the ride throughout the course was just lovely.

The wildlife was fascinating, too!


That hawk seemed to follow us to a couple of holes. Maybe he’s the keeper of the course. 😉

This guy was ready to pounce on something!

We were playing a best ball sort of game to keep things moving. We had a twilight tee time and wanted to make sure we’d make it to the oceanside of the course before sunset!

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I tried to do a panorama shot at one hole, but what are those glowing little balls between Jenny’s hands? Anyone else ever get shots like these?


I also got a shot of Jenny during one of her best drives!

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And Rob, too…

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We made it to the cliffs and beach as the sun was setting…

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…out over the water.

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But one of my favorite shots of the night was this one of Rob walking to our golf cart.


I’d say that was the perfect end to a fantastic trip!

But not until we had a little Italian for dinner! Rob spotted a place on the way to our golf outing called Via Uno. It’s appopriately named since via means road or highway in Italian and the PCH is Highway 1.


The ambiance was great and we bellied up to a corner of the bar to dine… and of course, ordered a little Italian wine.


The menu looked incredible. Rob and I were eyeing the pizzas.


The fave of the two we ordered wasn’t pretty, but it sure was supremely tasty!

Pizza Via Uno - Half calzone, half pizza!

Pizza Via Uno – Half calzone, half pizza!

I want to thank Shondra for being such a supremely wonderful host. This is a part of California that I would definitely return. It’s always wonderful to visit and spend time with friends!

Other posts on our 2015 California Trip:
Day 1 – Sunny Cali
Day 2 – Along the PCH to Santa Cruz
Day 3 – The Football {San Fran portion}
Day 4 – Sonoma Wine Tasting

Where is the best place you’ve golf or viewed wildlife?

How do you spend time outdoors?


A Little Taste of Sonoma in One Day…


Happy Wine Wednesday!


A trip to California is never complete without visiting Wine Country!


Yes, we dedicated one day to do just that. Besides, Shondra, Jenny and I all met in the wine business just a few months after I met Rob!

I’ve been really spoiled on my last few trips to California Wine County…

2005 – Sonoma County, California

  • I earned an all expense paid trip (for 1) to Sonoma by doing in-home wine tastings with The Traveling Vineyard.
  • Everything was planned. All food, wine and transportation was included. I didn’t have to think.
  • I knew that the wines would be great because we’d be visiting the wineries that supplied our wines!
  • Highlights of the trip:
    • After all of the times I’d been to Europe, this was my first time in California – and I fell in love.
    • I learned to love Pinot Noir, thanks to Guy Davis of Davis Family Vineyards. Many others bottling this varietal are doin’ it wrong!
Guy Davis - the king of Pinot Noir (imho)

Guy Davis – the king of Pinot Noir (imho)


2009 – Napa County, California

  • I earned an all expense paid trip (for 2) to Napa by doing in-home wine tastings with The Traveling Vineyard.
  • Everything was planned. All food, wine and transportation was included. I didn’t have to think.
  • I knew the wines would be great because we’d be visiting the wineries that supplied our wines!
  • Highlights of the trip:
    • I was able to take Rob on a trip that was completely free and he didn’t have to spend a penny. {I only earned a portion of his trip to Tuscany the year before. We had to pay the balance. He proposed there anyway!}
    • Rob negotiating the corkage fee at an outdoor burger joint for our entire group.



2013 – Temecula, California

  • This was time we added on after going to a friend’s wedding in L.A.
  • We were so lucky that another fellow Wineaux friend had been to Temecula before and guided us on what to do – where to stay, what her favorite wineries were, etc.
  • The area is much smaller than Napa or Sonoma. After a little dinner and drinks on our first night, we got some great recommendations!
  • Rob drove and let me do the majority of the tasting!
  • Highlights of the trip:


2015 – Sonoma County

This trip was so much different from all of my others! There were four of us this time around. Plus we decided to wing our own wine tasting experience!

First Tasting

Matanza Creek Winery {photo courtesy of Jenny}

What to consider when booking a one-day Sonoma wine tasting outing:


  • Have a designated driver.
    • This is probably the cheapest option.
    • But if you are in wine country with Wineaux friends, no one wants to volunteer! {Though, if you are there for multiple days, you can take turns. Trust me, you might get wined out!}
  • Book a Tour
    • Tours will include transportation and stops at around 5 or so wineries
      • These generally run $100 – $120 pp, sometimes include lunch and do not include tasting fees.
      • Pros: You don’t have to decide where to go, someone is driving you.
      • Cons: You don’t have a choice in where you go.
  • Book a Custom Tour or Limo
    • Generally much more expensive, but you get to customize your tour.


Winery Selection

  • Did you know that there are over 400 wineries in Sonoma County alone compared to the approximately 40 in Temecula?! Choosing can be an absolute nightmare, especially if you just have one day to taste.
  • If you are building your own winery itinerary, you are going to have to consider proximity. If you’ve got just one day, you’ll want your winery visits to be fairly close together. You don’t want to spend all day driving/riding.
  • Consider types of wines. Luckily, those in our group had very similar tastes! However, you’ll want to change things up and try something new, too.
  • Consider and plan for tasting fees.
    • Expect to spend approximately $15 per tasting per winery.
    • A couple or two friends can share a tasting.
    • Some tasting rooms will charge more, some will charge less.
    • Some will offer a Reserve Tasting for a higher price.
    • Others will waive your tasting fee with a wine purchase.

B Wise Vineyards Tasting Room {photo courtesy of Jenny}

Jenny’s and my favorite vineyard we visited was VJB!

Their tasting fee was only $10.


We loved that we got to try a Prosecco. Jenny and I love the bubbly!


We enjoyed all of the wines there! Our bartender was just lovely and gave us a few extra tastes of other wines, including the Chardonnay Port that had us intrigued. She also gave us a couple of two-for-one tastings to Kenwood Vineyards.


If you have some forethought, you can find package deals or free tasting coupons online, too. However, Shondra was able to score us some deals that she found online that day!

Because of Shondra’s finds, we enjoyed completely free tastings of what felt like 15 wines at this Zinfandel-specialty vineyard. We were the only ones in there on this beautiful Monday. So we got special attention, too. 😉

Rob and I were about to join the Wine Club at St. Anne’s Crossing, since it was so highly Zinfandel focused. But our fun wine guide could not give us the cost of wine club membership that would include shipping. I found that odd. But we loved that place and would recommend their wines.

What we learned this trip, was that despite the fact that we thought we all had similar tastes, when wines were compared side-by-side, we all had different favorites. Wine, and your palate, can surprise you sometimes.

I was surprised I wasn’t a huge fan of the wines at Loxton, a winery focused on Syrah/Shiraz, owned by an Aussie!


But I did love the garage-style tasting room!


In fact, on the way back to the bathroom, I found this:


I sent this photo to our friends Sally and Ryan with whom we are making wine. Sally ties a nice little ribbon around the neck of our carboys to label them. I found this duct tape method effective, but not quite as classy as Sally’s! 🙂


We hit seven wineries that day. That’s a lot! We didn’t stop to eat lunch, but we munched on some cheese, crackers and salami in the car between winery stops. It was a long day of tasting. We were ready for dinner.

We dined at HopMonk Tavern just down the road from our hotel in Sebastopol. 

The food was good, but the real star of the show was recommended by our busboy:

CHICKEN PHILLY ON NAAN All natural grilled chicken breast, red onions, fire roasted red peppers, topped with 3 cheese blend and spicy aioli on traditional naan bread

Chicken Philly on Naan – All natural grilled chicken breast, red onions, fire roasted red peppers, topped with 3 cheese blend and spicy aioli on traditional naan bread

Jenny let me take a bite of this delectable sandwich of hers and all I could say was, “Naam! Naam! Naam!”


Next time I’m in California, I might consider doing only a few higher-end tastings. I might focus on a place that does cheese and wine pairings. I might go to a winery with a beautiful landscape and just sit outside and enjoy a glass. Next time, I might consider quality over quantity. I’ve done the multiple winery thing in California now. It was a ton of fun; but I think I’ve got it down. 😉

In fact, a future trip Rob and I’d like to take is to Portugal where they have tapas and port tastings while overlooking the beautiful landscape. Has anyone done that before? The drummer of this band recommended it to us when she waited on our table at King’s Wine Bar in Minneapolis. We’ve wanted to go ever since.


No matter what, there’s nothing like a good zin and some friends.

“Over a bottle of wine, many a friend is made.”

Other posts on our 2015 California Trip:
Day 1 – Sunny Cali
Day 2 – Along the PCH to Santa Cruz
Day 3 – The Football {San Fran portion}

How do you choose which wineries to visit in wine country?