gifts that aren’t stuff

Mr. Banks taught us a few awesome tips for grilling a good steak, and with Father’s Day just around the corner, I thought I’d share some of my new-found grilling super powers. Brent and I thought we’d put his pro tips to work on a pair of filet mignon (filets mignon? help me out here).

These tips also work great on a t-bone, porterhouse, ribeye, or strip steak. I like a filet mignon because it is super lean and tender. It’s a non weight bearing cut so it is often so tender you can cut it with your fork. My kind of steak. My husband prefers something with a little more flavor and marble, so we may be grilling His and Hers steaks for Father’s Day this year.

Any of the cuts I mentioned are pretty great for turning out a great steak. Just make sure to buy the right breed and brand. Mr. Banks says Black Angus is his favorite.

(As a random side note, you may not have been around long enough to know we raised a couple black angus of our own. They are not my favorite to raise. They love to break out, usually while you are trying to feed your children breakfast. I was forever herding them home, usually dropping everything mid-breakfast, throwing on pasture boots and occasionally running dead sprint to cut them off, all this while I was 7-months pregnant. ya. good times.)

Let’s get to the grilling. Here are seven steps to grilling the perfect premium Father’s Day steak with Mr. Banks pro tips included.

1. Buy the right meat. I know, we’ve been over this, I just wanted to make sure we agreed. Black Angus is always a safe bet. Any other favorites?
2. Bring the steak to room temp. Chilled filets at the beginning mean dry filets at the end. Pat those filets dry with a paper towel, then let them sit out on the counter for 30 min or so. Then pat again.
3. Season with ground pepper. With a filet mignon especially, because it is so lean, I occasionally like to add granulated garlic and rosemary. But keep it light, and don’t marinade a prime cut (filet, t-bone, porterhouse, ribeye, or strip steak). You don’t want to cover the natural flavor.
NOTE on SALT: I prefer not to add salt until after grilling, because it can pull the moisture right out of that prime steak (I’ve tested a salted and nonsalted steak, it really is true). If you have an, ahem, more economy priced cut of beef, I love this method (found via stephmodo) of slathering on the salt.
4. Preheat the grill. For searing a steak, you’ll want your grill hot and ready to caramelize the natural juices in your steak. You’ll know your grill is ready if you hold your hand a couple inches above the grill and can’t keep it there for more than two seconds. For a gas grill, this will take about 20 minutes. Mr. Banks always uses charcoal. I used gas. Don’t judge me, Mr. Banks!
5. Okay, are you ready to grill? You need one more thing. A pair of BBQ tongs. And put your meat thermometer away. Never, and I mean never, pierce your filets. You’ll lose the natural juices. Mr. Banks taught me a great trick for finding out when your steak is done without a thermometer, which is coming in two steps.
6. Let’s grill. Put that filet on the grill and let it grill for three minutes, keeping the lid open. Handle the filet as little as possible. Pick up the filet, with your tongs, and rotate it a quarter turn to get those great grill marks. Let it grill three minutes longer. Now flip the steak and do the same thing on the opposite side.
7. Test for doneness. This is where Mr. Banks pro tip comes in. Once you’ve carmelized both sides of your steak, it should be done if you like it rare. If not, close the lid and let the steak cook until it has reached just under your desired tenderness (it will continue to cook a little once you pull it off the grill).

To find out how done your steak is without doing the unthinkable (piercing it with a thermometer), test by pushing on the top of your steak and seeing how firm it is. Then compare against the feel of the muscle on your hand just under your thumb (modeled here by the lovely Mrs. Banks, while holding my baby so I could take pictures). The firmness when your thumb is against your pointer is what your steak will feel like if it is rare. Thumb against your middle finger is medium. And thumb against your ring finger is well done. Go ahead, give it a try.


7. And the final tip, that we learned from Mr. Banks last time, is to let that meat rest. Ten minutes is good, twenty is better. Wrap those filets in foil and set them in a cooler and let the juices redistribute. This is also super nice when you’re entertaining, it gives you plenty of time to finish up any extra details or grill some veggies with your full attention.

When you sit down to your steak, you’ll be glad you waited.


This week I’ll be tying up my handmade gift retreat. And like any good party, I’m not ready for it to be over! But I have stellar women to finish it off, and I have something wonderful coming around the corner, so I will try to be brave.

To kick off the week, I hope you’ll help me say Hello to the beautiful Hannah of Sherbet Blossom. Hannah lives in Utah with her adorable family and runs a design shop you really must see. I love her May I Suggest series she has going right now, and before that her Project Organize (don’t you love her for this? you might run across me while you browse). I’m so thrilled to have her here today sharing a dear gift. I’ll leave you in her hands.


I think we all have ancestors/relatives that we relate to more than others. Relatives that we seem to take after. Someone that shares your same interests, character traits or humor. My Grandma Boo is that relative for me. She was a woman who had a passion for design; she always had the latest fashions in clothing and home decor: not your average grandma. She loved to laugh and she adored her husband. She was always serving other people and thought of herself last. She was the ultimate, glamorous hostess.

I come from a family of cooks and Grandma Boo was the best. When she passed away, my mother made all of Grandma Boo’s descendants a book of my grandmother’s recipes. It is now one of my most prized possessions. I am sad to say this book is not available for purchase, but it SHOULD be!
My copy is full of food stains, kid scribbles and jotted notes. I love this book. I know that I am safe making anything in it. Everything is delicious and most recipes are accompanied by memories of my grandmother. The smells and taste of her food brings in a rush of memories. This is a gift that will keep on giving.

Today, my teary-eyed three-year-old came to me requesting “Grandma Boo’s Cookies” after falling down. How could I refuse him? Grandma’s cookies make any sadness a little sweeter.
Now the she is gone, Grandma’s recipes have become my homemade gift of choice. I pull out the recipe book for every holiday. Many of my friends, neighbors and family members have been the recipients of her fantastic recipes. Nothing can invite a smile like the gift of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

My grandma’s cookies are one of my favorite items in the cookbook, and like my grandma, I don’t believe in secret recipes. Sharing makes cooking even more fun. The recipe is my gift to you today. Enjoy!

3/4 c. shortening
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. soda
2 c. quick rolled oats
1 pkg. chocolate chips
3/4 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Cream together shortening and sugars. Add eggs. Add remaining
ingredients in order and mix well. Bake at 350 degrees until done.
(About 10-11 minutes.)


Are you the type who can go to a café all alone? Would you ever go to the theatre and watch a movie solo? I have a confession to make. I totally can. In fact, there’s no place I’m happier than in the middle of a big city, a new one if possible, alone and free to explore and take in the people and the sights.

My husband, who knows my vagabond-like tendencies all too well, surprised me with some very fun gifts for my birthday. Among them, an entire day off. I was given a spare but carefully chosen collection of supplies, including a very small picnic blanket and equally small library. And I was set free on the city. I roamed streets, met warm and wonderful strangers, and picnicked in the company of Hemingway. It was the most delicious day. Oh, and he also gave me a birthday dress.  (His bday is in less then two weeks. I am feeling a little pressure. Just a little.) The pic above is me about to be let in on what I’d be doing all day.

I was also spoiled for my bday by friends and family and by wishes from you.  So thanks to all of you.

And now, I am dying to know. What would you do with your perfect day off?


Speaking of warm and wonderful people. I have one stopping by tomorrow as a kitchen guest. Here are two clues to get you ready. She has mad writing skills (not to mention handwriting to die for), and knows how to take a good road trip. Okay that was three. Be sure to stop by tomorrow to say hello and make her feel at home.


Book Portrait


Books are such an important part of who you become. Which is why I am completely in love with the idea of getting a portrait made of the books our little family is particularly fond of at the moment, which you can have done here. Thanks Letter Soup and LMNOP.

p.s. What book helped make you who you are?


The Small Things


Hello again, Readers!

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the Broken Windows theory lately.  I think it stems from feeling overwhelmed a lot of the time and wanting to get back to basics.  I first read about the theory in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point”.  The super condensed version of the theory is that that small changes lead to big changes. For example, in the 1990’s, crime in New York plummeted when officials had all the graffiti on subway trains painted over and when they arrested people for minor infractions such as not paying to ride the subway.  (Other factors came into play as well, of course.)

I love the idea that starting from the bottom and dealing with the underlying issues often does more good than trying to solve the big, noticeable problems first.  I see this theory at work in my own house when I put a dish in the sink.  If I don’t deal with that dish right away, either by washing it or putting it in the dishwasher, before I know it, that one dish has turned into a whole sink full of dishes, which somehow morphs into messy house.  As long as I keep my sink clean, everything else seems so much more manageable.

May favorite example:  There is an 83-year-old woman named Jackie who lives down the street from me. Jackie is the mother of nine (yes, NINE) children. She says she cheated because she had two sets of twins. Given the fact that she had two sets of twins 18 months apart, I would hardly call that cheating. (I have one 18-month old son and he’s the busiest body I’ve ever seen.  I can’t imagine having two of him plus two newborns to care for.)

To keep in good health, Jackie walks around the neighborhood each morning while carrying a reaching aid and picks up litter while she exercises. This has made such a noticeable difference in our neighborhood that she once told me that her neighbor came over to check on her to make sure she was ok when he noticed that there was a piece of trash on the road. She has made a significant contribution to our neighborhood by doing a simple thing such as picking up litter while going on her morning walks.  I especially love that she’s not really going out of her way to make a difference:  she’s just taking something that she’s already doing to the next level.

Is anyone else as inspired by this concept as I am?  If so, I have two challenges for you:

1.  What can you do to fix a broken window in your life/home/family/community? Maybe it’s finding a moment to meditate each day, going to bed with a clean sink each night, honestly prioritizing your to-do list (and sticking to it!), being completely present with those you associate with, volunteering at your local non-profit, or maybe even picking up a few pieces of litter on your stroll around the block.

2.  Is there someone in your life that has dealt with or is dealing with the broken windows in your neighborhood?  Will you seek these people out and write them a note of thanks so they know that the work they are doing is noticeable and appreciated?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories about this topic.


Darling Clementine

Crystal stops by GiversLog a couple times a month to share her fresh ideas. When she’s not writing for GiversLog, Crystal can be found mothering, knitting, and cooking. Stop by and see some of her handy work at her etsy shop.


I am so thrilled today to be hosting a favorite blogger of mine. Catching up with Hil’s blog is like a conversation with an old friend. You have a great time and come away remembering what life is all about. She’s kept me up late into the night, reading her blog though wet eyes. And besides her just being adorable, she also designs blog layouts that you will adore. So, without further ado, here is Hilary of Hil’s Blog.


Hello!  I am Hilary from  I am a wife to my wonderful husband, Jer and mother to my Little Guy who is almost 3, angel baby Michael who we lost in November 2009, and another little man who will be making his debut November 2010.  My boys are where I find my joy each day.  I am a graphic designer by trade, focusing primarily on blog design.  I enjoy eating cookie dough whenever given the chance and have known to have 80’s butt rock hair on occasion.  My favorite activity consists of anything involving my family, i.e. bike rides on a summer evening, a trip to the zoo, a picnic in the park, etc.  I love good food, good company and good conversation.  I am also an aracnaphobe.

now that we’re acquainted…

1.  A book of entries from my husband’s journal during the time we met and were dating.  This was his very first Valentine’s gift to me.  Kind of a hard thing to start out with, seeing how it is hard to top.  I love reading the entries and seeing the adorable drawings my husband has on each page.  Having our story recorded from his perspective is a treasure.

2.  A jar of homemade apple pie filling. This was given to us by some friends who knew that all we needed was a big jar of comfort.  It was so great to have a homemade apple pie after just four steps.  Roll out dough, fill dough with apple pie filling, bake and eat!  It was wonderful.

3.  A bouquet of undershirts from my favorite place.  My husband knows me too well and knows how I feel about a bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day… they are gorgeous, but don’t last nearly long enough for the price!  So for yet another Valentine’s gift, he rolled the undershirts up to look like roses, attached them to hangers (to serve as stems) and placed them in a vase.  He is too creative for his own good.  It was adorable.

4.  A stack of warm, soft, homemade cookies from a dear friend.  She didn’t just bring them on some old paper plate left over from Christmas (something I would do), she stacked the cookies one on top of the other and wrapped them in a cute package topped with ribbon.  The little details warmed my heart.

5.  A week of warm meals. After we lost our baby, Michael, the girls in my neighborhood set up meals to be brought to my home for an entire week.  We ate better that week than we have our entire marriage.  We had anything from pot roast to homemade chicken fingers and the food not only filled our tummies but warmed our hearts.  It was so wonderful to not have to worry about what I was going to do for dinner that first week of mourning.

1.  A day to the zoo. This is probably the best gift I have given and can give to my Little Guy at this period in his life.  He absolutely loves the zoo and all the animals there.  I also feel like spending good, quality time with him is the best gift I can give him.

2.  A morning to the golf course.  My husband has picked up golfing the last couple of years.  He really enjoys it and would go everyday, were the budget to allow.  I think a morning to the golf course would be the perfect gift to this busy man.  He works full time and goes to school, so he often feels guilty spending any leisure time away from me and Little Guy.  If I were to wake up one morning and send him on his way, I know it would be perfect.

3.  A bowl of salsa from a favorite restaurant.  My family used to all live in the same town that I currently still live in.  While they still lived here, we had a favorite Mexican restaurant that we would go to often.  We mostly went for their amazing salsa.  Now that they all live too far away to have the tasty stuff, I try to bring a big tupperware bowl full of it whenever we get together.

4.  Anything wrapped in cellophane.  Not only do I love receiving a pretty package wrapped in the shiny wrapping, I love giving gifts wrapped up in a fun bundle of cellophane.  It spruces up any old gift.

5.  Tickets to Hawaii. Last year I saved up enough to buy us tickets to Hawaii.  It ended up being the best vacation my husband and I have ever taken.  It was so relaxing and just what the doctor ordered after a busy school year for the hubs.  The real gift was from my mom, who offered to watch Little Guy for us for the week.  Such a wonderful break!


After reading this post, I am completely in love with the idea of surprising someone sometime with a food truck on a big, important day. What would be your pick, tacos, bbq, cookies, ice cream?

Photo from here.

p.s. more on food trucks here and an entire blog devoted to it here.


We have this great supplier here in Sac that collects vintage soda from everywhere. They’re called Blue Dog Beverages and they’re fantastic. I had a chat yesterday with Bob Lake, one of the owners,  about what he might recommend for a good soda sampler. He put together a little tour of root beers for me (a little bit like this one, from Erin), starting with River City Rootbeer, which is brewed here locally. I thought I’d share Bob’s recommendations with you, incase you’d like to put something together for dad for next Sunday.

After I hung up with Bob I headed right over to a Nugget to pick up my loot, but Bob mentioned that you could probably find most of these at BevMo too. I’ve also put together some tags to add to the overall effect, and I’m posting a few blanks labels incase you want to write your own message. You can download them here.

Rootbeer Tour Labels (2231)
Stripey Tags, blank (2118)

(helpful hints: You might have to right click and choose “save link as” or “download linked file.” Also, you can resize these once downloaded by inserting them as a picture into a Word document. And finally, if you need printable label paper, I bought this kind and have been very happy with it.)

River City, from here is Sacramento, California. Bold and hearty, like Dad.

Dad’s, originally from Chicago, Illinois

Abita, from Louisiana

Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer, I’ll let you guess where this one’s from

Capt’n Eli’s, from Maine

Waialua, from Hawaii (note, this one was not on Bob’s list, but I had to throw it in after reading reviews)


For some time I’ve been meaning to start highlighting your comments. So often they put a smile on my face so I’d like to pass them on every now and then. I thought Mandy‘s comment on this blog post was a good place to start.

“holy crow are those weck jars…it’s my dream jar shelf…” —Mandy

If you are unfamiliar with Weck, you can feast your eyes right here.

And one last, very important thing. Be sure to stop by Mandy’s blog. She has a recipe for Disappearing Strawberry Freezer Jam that I can’t wait to try.

[pantry image from here via here]


Wow. I can’t thank you enough for your help yesterday with Tab’s teacher gift dilemma. I’m always overwhelmed, on days like yesterday, with how many amazing, thoughtful people I’ve met through this blog. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments and ideas.

I thought I’d share the group gifts we did or are doing for our teachers this year.
My son’s preschool teacher is going to be moving over the summer, so we picked up this Japanese maple for her to plant at her new place. Isn’t it pretty? We also had each of the kids paint a rock for her to put at the foot of the tree. They really enjoyed getting to do something for their adored teacher. We also found out about some software she’d been wanting, so we got that for her too.

For my daughter’s teacher, we had the wonderful admin at the office do a little spy work for us. We found out she loves the beach, so we’re pitching in for a Select Registry gift card. She can pick out any bed & breakfast she likes and get away for a weekend. I found this one in Monterey while browsing the registry. Isn’t it dreamy? We’re also planning to plaster her door with thank-yous on the last day.

Have you done any fun group gifts for teachers? I’d love to hear.


Divine Twine

Did you hear, the new website for Whisker Graphics is up and running. You can now have instant gratification with all of the Whisker Graphics printables. As soon as you order a printable, it is yours to download right away. Go stop by if you have a moment.


Dear Readers, I have a bit of an urgent question for you. Tab is looking for something for a great teacher, and the last day of school is only 11 days away. If you have any ideas, Tab and I need you!

“My youngest son is finishing 3rd grade. He has a male teacher who is wonderful. My children have all been blessed by having this teacher. I have 3 boys. Seeing as this is the last of my children to have him, we were hoping to give him something over-the-top special to remember us by.”

“I want him to remember us, but I don’t want it to be knick knacks, because he’s a bit of a neat freak. He’s in his early 30s. Not married. A wonderful sense of humor. With no real deep interests that he has shared.”

“Money is always an object, but I’d even be willing to go up to $50 if it was something I thought was great. I’d love any help on this.” —Tab

have the local creamery name a custom creation after your favorite teacher

The great thing about honoring a teacher is that it’s easy to get others on board. Get an hour dedicated to him on the radio or get his name on the reader board on the way into town. Maybe have the local pizzeria create a pizza in his honor, and give him a gift card for a few pizzas while you’re there. (I called a male teacher friend last night, and he said that good local food is always appreciated.) Maybe give him a really great pizza cutter while you’re at it, and have it engraved, so it’s kind of like a trophy, but not really.

And if all of that seems to be stretching it, try bargain shopping for a super hip bag. Include a thank you note from each son tucked inside, and you might have just the thing.

What about you readers? Any ideas Tab can use for giving a teacher an memorable thank you? She and I would love to hear them.

[photo from here]


I love ideas for celebrating big. I just added a couple of these ideas to my list of ways to celebrate a landmark birthday, but thought they would also be a great way to send off a beloved teacher.

A giant card where everyone pitches in

A phone call where everyone pitches in

Another fun, really big idea, get murals made here

Have you seen any fun ideas for seeing off a teacher, my creative friends? I’d love to hear.
[phone photo from here]


Get more farewell ideas from my gift inspiration board, or from blog posts here and here.




Um. Can I please have a re-do on my honeymoon?

I love the idea of ironed sheets, fine china, and the great outdoors.

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Are you the camping type? Are you not? I’m curious to hear from campers and non-campers alike, are you tempted?


One year my SIL and I conspired to completely organize my mom’s gift wrap closet. (See how I organize mind right here). We bought organizational supplies and went the whole nine yards. I don’t know who had more fun, my SIL and I having an excuse to buy organizational supplies or my mom getting to open the closet on Christmas morning and find complete and total order (not always easy when you’re not the only one using a closet). So here are a couple pics to get your organizational juices flowing. Aren’t they dreamy?

incredible craft room from this flikr stream, also some favorite craft organizational ideas here

dreamy pantry from here via here