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Santa Belle: What I Gave for Christmas

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Christmas ideas

Christmas is my absolutely positively favorite holiday of the year. I love the festive decorations, the cookies and sweets, the music, the gathering of friends and family, and the gifts. As someone in her young twenties, Christmas is a reliable time of year to get some help on all the things I need and want but can’t afford. Like this year I received a much needed blanket for my bed and gift cards to some of my favorite places. But better than receiving the gifts is giving them.

I try throughout the year to give meaningful and thoughtful gifts. It’s the chance for me to say “I notice you and appreciate you”. Now, meaningful and thoughtful doesn’t have to mean expensive, which was very true this year (I spent an average of maybe $10 a gift); it means addressing someone’s interests, style, or personality. And this year I hit it out of the park.

So I don’t want to brag about the gifts I got. I want to brag about the gifts I gave. Hopefully this can give you some insight and help on what to give your loved ones the next holiday season!

For the ladies in my family:

Waaaay back in September I stumbled on a secret Kate Spade sale that finally let me achieve my dream of owning one of her purses and a wallet. It also let me get some Christmas shopping done.

  • For my mom, I got her a pair of dangling earrings, a collection of brassy little circles which she loved.
  • For my step-mom of sorts, a circle bracelet with a mod black, white, and blue pattern that 100% matched her beautiful style.
  • For my sister, a simple gold and crystal necklace since her ears aren’t pierced. As a similar lover of designers, she loved adding it to her collection.

Related Reading: Dear Bellena: Help with the Holidays

For the ladies that love a good home-made gift:

I love little crafts, especially those involving yarn or string, because it gives me something to do during my frequent Netflix marathons. They also make for great, inexpensive, heart-felt gifts!

  • For my best friend in the whole wide world: a “flowery” cross-stitch to decorate her fancy-pants cubicle and let her coworkers know just how much she cares.
  • For my step-sister of sorts: a framed cross-stitch that pairs her love for cats and activism in one perfect little picture.
My step-sister and step-mom pose with their Christmas gifts on the couch. My step-sister holds a white-framed cross-stitch pattern that features four cats and the words "less catcalls, more cats". My step mom looks down at the Kate Spade bangle bracelet I got her.

Step-mom and step-sister pose with their gifts.

Related Reading: Adam’s Mystery Playhouse: Holidays R Murder 

For the southern dad that loves to cook and already has everything he needs:

My dad is the hardest to shop for. He doesn’t like a lot of fancy things, likes to keep thing simple and clutter free, already has every tool in the tool shed, and buys everything he needs for himself. I have to get super creative with his gifts, and they’re usually the ones I stress over for the entire year. But this year I stumbled on perfection.

  • A little book from Barnes and Noble’s discount shelves called Well Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit, a collection of weird and crazy sayings and stories from the south, perfect for someone who spent his summers on a farm in Missouri as a kid.
  • A Himalayan Salt Plate for cooking and bar-b-queing. My dad loves to cook and is a master at it, but already has all the pots and pans and knives he needs. This gave me something I could give to him that was new and interesting and expanded his cooking style. I’m looking forward to whatever he makes with it!

A salt plate with a serving tray and cook book sit on the coffee table after being opened as a gift on Christmas.

For the world-conscious, give-backers that rule the world:

These were other stumble-on miracles that I found that managed to combine duel interests into one perfect gift.

  • For my best friend’s sister, the green-thumb guru: a K-Cup Recycling Tool. Keurig pods can’t be recycled unless the top is separated from the bottom, which requires a nifty tool like this (which is relevant because she uses a Keurig for her morning coffee). Bonus points: the coffee grounds make great compost for her many many house plants.
  • For the friends and sister + brother-in-law that have a rescue pup(s): coffee is a great gift, but coffee that gives back is even better. Grounds and Hounds donates a portion of their profits to animal shelters and rescues, which I’m all about. This way, I was able to include the doggos in the gift without adding yet another squeaker toy to the over-flowing collection.

For everyone else, they are coffee mugs:

Simple, versatile, useful, necessary, and you can never have enough. Mugs are a great way to spread the love without emptying your wallet.

  • For the dog-lover stuck in a house with two cat ladies: a mug covered in cartoon pups. He needed a mug of his own that didn’t read “crazy cat lady” or “how do you like me meow?”
  • For the sassy, silly, YOLO AF bestie: a mug sporting the life motto of “no regerts”.
  • For the football-loving brother-in-law that married a Colorado native: some orange and blue Broncos pride on a mug. That he received while wearing a Steeler’s jersey. Welcome to the family, bro.

Related Reading: 5 DIY Christmas Gifts for the Office

What was your Christmas gift win this year? Tell me in the comments!

January 2, 2018

Adams Mystery Playhouse: Holidays R Murder

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mystery play

My dad gave me a task a few weeks ago: find something for our whole family to do around Christmas. In the midst of my searching for “fun things to do in Denver” on Google, I stumbled across the Adam’s Mystery Playhouse. I clicked on some links, and read about this place. It’s an interactive, dinner/lunch show where the audience solves the mystery that takes place. They feed you, perform, include you AND there was a bar. It’s December already, every big thing that could be fun will not have enough room for eight people. BUT, they will have room for three…I texted Belle and Mitch and bought 3 tickets for us to go to one of the only available dates left on a Sunday afternoon.

The Playhouse

I had never head of this place until this moment, and I told Belle and Mitch that, just in case it was a waste of $48. It turned out to be one of the best investments we’ve made! Show time was at 2:00, so we showed up about thirty minutes early for cocktails. The playhouse is literally in an old house in Denver. There are two large dining rooms (one upstairs, one in the basement) where the plays are performed. There were two shows going on that day: “Holidays R Murder” and “A Dickens of a Murder”. We weren’t allowed into the playrooms until closer to the starting time. While we waiting, we grabbed a drink (spiked eggnog for the win!), did a scavenger hunt, and noticed people in costumes among the guests. The actors were already into character, speaking to the guests about the other characters and what they had been up to lately. Shortly after our interactions, we were ushered downstairs to take our seats.

The Play

Since we were the first three down there, we made sure to choose the seats facing the small stage at the front for the best view. It was all decorated for Christmas, with red lights over head and big presents hung up by the stage. We were ushered by table to grab our lunch. Since ours was the last to fill up, we were last. However, that meant having time for one of the cast members to ask if “one of us lovely ladies would mind volunteering to be a character”. Which of course, turned out to be me, at Belle’s generous insistence.

So I became Billy Joe, twin sister to Bobby Joe and one part of the fantastic singing group The Silver Bells. Fortunately I didn’t have to sing. But more about my role later.

The story was that we were at the Cringle Cookie Factory Christmas Party, where one of the main party guests, George Bailey, was murdered. We had the chance to get up and look at clues on each of the tables, like a life insurance policy and some saucy emails. An inspector arrived and led the audience through those and some new clues, usually asking for an audience member to read a clue aloud. And if someone read it wrong, a joke was usually made at that person’s expense (but all in good fun!). There was also a Christmas congo line, a rendition of “Santa Baby”, and a little dance show from Tinsel and Balls featuring one actor and two audience members.

My little role as Billy Joe was as a love interest of George Bailey. Except he was two-timing me with my very own sister, Bobby Joe! I messed up my line a little bit because I was so in character (cue merciless joke from the cast), but it was fun to be a part of the show. Belle and Mitch also stood up to read some clues in their “best dramatics”.

Mitch and Elena attentively watch the Holidays R Murder at the Adam's Mystery Playhouse

Related Reading: A Night At the Theater: Macbeth

Go go go!

If you’re ever in Denver, go to the Adam’s Mystery Playhouse! We had so much fun and have already agreed to go to every show they do next year (not kidding). Not only is it great to support the small arts and actors, but being a part of the show makes everything better. Not to mention, every show is different than the last because the jokes and the lines are adapted to each individual audience.

Seriously, check it out.

And if you’re not in Denver, you should seek out the small theaters around you and see what shows they have!

December 21, 2017

Dear Bellena: Help With the Holidays

bellena holidays


Belle and Elena are best friends (you already know this) and yet are vastly different (maybe you didn’t know that). Belle is all about “do no harm but take no shit”, save yourself first, and no third chances. Elena sees the best in people, loves everyone, and manages to stay in contact with almost everyone she’s ever met from everywhere. Belle makes decisions with her brain, Elena with her heart.

They compliment each other and keep each other in check. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have to battle it out when their opinions differ.

It also means they’re great for giving advice, because you can get two sides! Or, in the rare event that the two agree entirely on a plan of action, it’s likely because it’s the best. So send in your “Dear Bellena” letters and get personal advice from the lovely ladies!

Related Reading: 16 Personality Types

Disclaimer: Belle and Elena are not trained phycologists or should be considered professionals in regards to life-changing decisions. They are simply two women who want to help and offer their unsolicited advice. 

Help With the Holidays

Dear Bellena,

Christmas and the holidays has always been rough with my family, but I feel like this year is especially hard. My sister and I have never been close, but in recent years the space between us has grown, not shrunk. She dropped out of college, moved in with our parents, works part time at the mall, drinks and smokes, and constantly complains about things being hard for her. I work hard to support myself and be grateful for what I have.

This holiday season, I’m finding myself thinking about how good kids receive toys and bad kids are supposed to receive coal. I’m fed up with my sister and her bad behavior, but I don’t want to start a feud at Christmas by not getting her a gift, or by getting her a noticeable small and petty one. How can I make this holiday a good one for everyone, including myself?


Fed Up Sis



Dear Fed Up Sis,

Sister relationships and family relationships are rough. Whoever came up with the idea that family means unconditional love was full of bull, but that idea can’t just be done away with without some consequences.

As someone who could have been a much better older sister than she was, I’m working hard to mend the relationship I have with my sister. It’s hard and awkward and, unfortunately, requires work from both ends. The two biggest things I want to share with you are: one, be the bigger person, and, two, communicate.

Before Christmas (not just the day before), pull your sis aside and talk to her about how you’re feeling. Awkward, I know. But do it. And don’t get angry! Try try try to phrase it as “this is what I see and this is why it upsets me” instead of “you’re a mess and I’m annoyed, so fix it”. There might be more going on that you’re not aware of. Then, on Christmas, give her as thoughtful as a gift as you can.

Playing the retribution game just sends the two of you into a spiral of hurt feelings and finger pointing. As much as you want to give her a crummy gift to match her crummy attitude, being the bigger person and giving her love will do more good in the long run. And I mean the long run, because it might take a year or two for her to catch on and return the favor. But from someone who is seeing it pay out and is much happier of her relationship with her sister today than four years ago, it’s really worth it.


Fed Up Sis,

Having three older sisters myself, I find this easier to relate to. I can also relate to the part with you living on your own and feeling successful without your family seeming to notice. As frustrating as these circumstances with your sister may be, you are still family, and family is there for the ups and downs. If I were in your shoes, I would still get my sister a moderately thoughtful gift. Just because you think she may not get one for you, doesn’t mean that you should do the same.

There are so many things you could give her that wouldn’t seem cheap, but useful. If she’s having issues with drugs and alcohol, try getting her something that she can do without those substances: a journal, a book, a yoga mat, an adult coloring book. All these things are ways to occupy the brain without the aid of drugs, which could help her out in that instance, and in turn, change her attitude.

If you’re heading home for the holidays, consider things that could be fun for your entire family to enjoy together. This may even require you to think back on traditions you had as a kid and build from there. Even watching a Christmas movie together or baking cookies could be a good way to build your relationship back with your sister.

To avoid a feud, still get your sister something, however little it may be, even if it’s a coal ornament for the tree (this will really depend on your sister’s sense of humor….). I fear that if you get her nothing, you’ll be regretting it more than bitter about the few dollars you’ll lose for actually getting something.



Best of luck,

Belle and Elena

December 18, 2017

5 DIY Christmas Gifts for the Office

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DIY Christmas


If you’re anything like me, you need a lot of gifts for various people with little money. I like to spend a decent amount on friends and family, so my colleagues get something a little smaller; more affordable. For this, I’ll need something relatively the same and a lot of it. For gifts like these, I look to Pinterest. Here are just a few of the DIY crafts I’ve used that are cheap, easy to make and gender neutral!


Mason Jars

Mason jars will always win people over because of their popularity and many uses. A couple of years ago, I found a pack of 4 with handles at Ross for about a dollar a piece! I filled the bottom with Hershey kisses and placed cotton balls on top, and dusted the top with sparkles. Then I placed a tea candle on top and tied different colored ribbon around the tops and wrote names on small tags. This way, people could have a sweetie and also reuse the jar afterward!



Because who doesn’t like soap? Especially at this time of the year when there are so many holiday scents! I saw a tag on a holiday scent of soap saying “Just ‘soap’in’ you have a Merry Christmas”,  and “We wash you a Merry Christmas“, which was clever. You can also pair it with a bag of goodies to eat or a bar of soap.




Plates or Mugs

If you go to the dollar store, you can stock up on white plates or mugs. If you do this, you can write a personal message in sharpie and stick it in the oven at 150 degrees for 30 minutes to make it permanent! Then you can fill the plate with baked goods or makings for hot chocolate.


Goody Jar

This can also be made with a Mason jar, however you can use any jar. Fill the clear jar with M&M’s, Skittles or Reese’s Pieces and label the jar “Chill Pills” with instructions on how/when to take a pill. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, glue three black buttons vertically on one side of the jar. Tie a red ribbon around the rim and fill the jar with white chocolate covered pretzels for a snowman jar!


Hot Chocolate Ornament

This year for my office, I bought candy canes, hot chocolate mix, mini marshmallows and clear ornaments. I poured the bag of mix into the ornament first, then added the marshmallows before putting on the top. I slid the candy cane through the loop at the top and then wrote my coworkers name on the ornament. This is easier said then done: I spilled hot cocoa mix all over my sister’s coffee table and dropped so many marshmallows on the floor, I was pushing the dog away with one foot and the cat with the other. This took me longer than expected and mine definitely don’t look this pretty, but hey, I tried.


There are so many ideas on Pinterest, I would highly recommend looking up ideas there if you’re in need of an abundance of gifts this holiday season! Just give yourself plenty of time, you will make mistakes and it WILL NOT look like the picture on the post. That’s okay, as long as you try and get the general idea, your coworkers or friends will be appreciative!



December 13, 2017