A Timeless Gift Idea (Really)

Three years ago, a writer for Better Homes & Gardens magazine was kind enough to call and interview me about my top gift recommendations for the season.

I told her about the "Sewell Family Yearbook" that I had created for the last five years.  Below is the cover of that December issue and clip of that article.  Three years later, this continues to be the gift we make for Scott's family every Christmas!  (Honestly, I don't think anyone would let us stop doing this - not that we would ever want to).

More details here about how this came about and how you can put one together.  There's still plenty of time to get this done.  Even though it can take a bit of time to gather and organize the photos, it is so worth doing.  It lets us relive memories from throughout the year as we put it together - and then enjoy reviewing the entire year with family at Christmas as we sit around the tree.

My Christmas Routine: Walmart Run

Every Christmas, Scott and I fly to Tennessee to spend the week with family.  After a lunch stop at Martin's BBQ in Nashville, during the two-plus hour drive to his parents' house, we drive by about a zillion Walmart stores. 

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When we are about half an hour away, we always check in with his mom to see if there are any last-minute groceries to pick up.  And throughout the week, one of us generally heads to Walmart or Sam's Club every single day to pick up eggs for breakfast casseroles, provisions for dinner for 14, wrapping paper, batteries, or a few last-minute gifts.

If you are familiar with New York City, you know that Walmart does not exist there.  Having gone to university in Arkansas - the Land of Walmart - I get very excited about these shopping trips.  So, I was very happy this holiday season to partner with Gillette, SheaMoisture, and Keurig to share a few holiday gifts and essentials you can pick up in the store.  They are sponsoring this post and several of my TV segments.

For guys who like gifts they can actually use - which is pretty much every guy in my life - Justice League Gillette Gift Packs are affordable and practical.  They are just $9.88 for an entire package that includes a razor, shaving gel, deodorant, and body wash - you pay two to three times that to buy the same items separately.  Since there are several designs featuring different characters, a friend of mine bought a different set for each of their teenage sons.

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For those of us who need a bit of extra effort in fighting dry skin in the rough winter weather, SheaMoisture Holiday Gift Trios feature popular body washes and lotions like 100 percent Virgin Coconut Oil, African Black Soap, or Raw Shea Butter with Frankincense and Myrrh.  They also have hair gift trios of their Coconut & Hibiscus or Raw Shea Butter products.  

Last, but not least, K-Cup pods are a holiday - and for me, everyday - essential.  Since my in-laws have a Keurig, we stock up on hot cocoa for the kids, decaf coffee for me, Earl Grey tea for Scott's parents, and plenty of extra bold, dark roast coffee for everyone else.  

Are you already checking items off your holiday list, or do you tend to be a last-minute holiday shopper?

Baking Bread With My Dad

Last week, I spent a few days visiting my dad in Arkansas.

In between trips to Walmart and going to the "early-bird" Bible class with his retired friends, one item that is always on the agenda is baking bread.

Day one: feed the starter and mix the dough.

Day one: feed the starter and mix the dough.

A retired university professor, Dad bakes sourdough bread at least once a week.  He uses a starter that my mother used for years, and he took over the bread-baking duties before she passed away several years ago.  He also bakes the best pie crusts, and used to make pies for his students at the end of each semester.

In their small town, he is known for his homemade bread.   Whenever someone is sick or needs something fixed, he is always there to help out – and often takes a freshly-baked loaf.  And when he remarried a few years ago to the lovely Janice, she was delighted to find out she had married the best baker in town!

He will happily share the recipe and starter with anyone who asks, but you are then committing to the constant care and feeding of the starter and baking bread frequently -  whether you want to or not.

Day two: knead the dough and let it rise.

Day two: knead the dough and let it rise.

Anytime I come home, Dad "just happens to have" a few extra loaves on-hand that I can pack up and bring back to New York. 

When I visited him a few summers ago, I watched as he was mixing the dough one night.  He opened the pantry door, and I noticed it was well-stocked with King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour and Whole Wheat Flour.  (The company hired me for many years to do TV segments for them).  He confirmed that it is the best flour, and that he would never use anything else.  He said “I don’t know what makes it different, but it makes all the difference in how the bread turns out.” 

Day three: divide into pans, let rise again and bake.  Voila - the finished product!

Day three: divide into pans, let rise again and bake.  Voila - the finished product!

Indeed.  Just hours after this last photo was taken, both freshly-baked loaves were cool - and safely packed up for their flight to New York with me.

Up in the Air: Dallas & Little Rock

Several years ago, I started the tradition of visiting my dad each February.

Once my Valentine TV segments wrap, I usually have about a week of office work to catch up on, which I can do from anywhere.  I actually visit several times a year, but this is always an easy time to schedule.

So, I stock the fridge with a few dinners for Scott to heat up while I'm gone, pack my carryon bag and fly South for a few days.

Not only do I see my dad, but since he lives in the Arkansas town where I went to university, I get to see friends who now work on campus.  I also have the pleasure of speaking to public relations classes, something I always look forward to doing whenever I am in town.

As is usual when I travel, I take the earliest flight possible - which is generally 6 a.m. and, when you fly American Airlines, probably connects through Dallas.  Even for an early flight, I still get to the airport ridiculously early, so I always have time for a quick stop for coffee and a scan of the New York Times and New York Post (confession: usually just Page Six) before boarding.

Today's early wakeup was rewarded with this view of frozen New York rivers, snapped during the takeoff from LaGuardia.

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