Best Gift Ideas for 2021 Inspired by What Helped us Handle 2020

I don’t usually write gift guides, but I thought this list of best gift ideas for 2021 might be useful as we eventually leave lockdowns and create our new normal lives.

Life after 2020 isn’t going to look like life before 2020. In a lot of ways, that’s wonderful. REALLY wonderful.

During the past year, there were lots of changes in our daily lives. Some too big. Some small, but still important. Eventually we will be seeing friends and family again. We will be celebrating and giving gifts.

Here are some ideas for things that we really learned to appreciate during the past year, and can make life enjoyable in and out of lockdown.


Finders Seekers is a subscription to puzzle games. This is perfect screen-free fun for families like ours that enjoyed escape rooms before the lockdown. Send it to friends who loving doing puzzles that aren’t jigsaws.

BarkBox – did your friend get a Covid puppy like we did? Is your puppy a super-chewer like ours? When you don’t want to go to the pet store, BarkBox is a great option. Especially the SuperChewer subscription. Help your friend keep their pup happy and their shoes un-chewed.

Misfits Market  – Yes, sometimes I did a lot of stress eating. And also we baked a lot. So to balance that out we started a subscription to Misfits Market. We love the fresh fruits and vegetables and the fact we can customize our boxes. So a gift to Misfits Market is a healthy way to nourish the one you love. 

Apps –  Give this gift to the reader you love. If their library and bookstores closed like ours did, they will love this. Reading is a daily activity in our house. We need books. But we don’t buy books from a giant online bookseller. We try to support Indies. gives you ebooks AND supports Indie bookstores. 

Shipt  – We used Shipt before the lockdown and were so grateful for it during the lockdown. Give it to a friend and help them stay safe and save home if we have to (hopefully never) again. But even when the lockdown is lifted, Shipt saves so much time. You can shop carefully off a list and double-check the pantry. AND you can request reusable bags!

Duolingo  – Did your friend cancel a vacation? Are they making a list of places to visit? Help them spend some time learning the language before they go. (Bonus: if your friend is helping kids study a language during virtual school, this is good practice.) 

Kitchen Gear 

Air Fryer – we love our Ninja Air Fryer for cooking all the fruits and veg we buy from Misfit Market and Shipt.

A Really Good Coffee Maker – I use Aeropress, but there are lots of great options. If you can’t meet up at the cafe, at least enjoy great coffee at home.

Indoor Herb Garden– There’s a good chance people will continue cooking at home more after lockdowns. Make it more flavorful with an indoor herb garden. These don’t have to be fancy, you can buy some or make your own. It’s a gift with great taste.


A Ring Light – Help your friends and family look great on all the Zoom calls that will inevitably continue after lockdown. 

An iPad stand – So many to choose from  – pick your favorite. Maybe a handmade on from Etsy. Nobody needs to hold their iPad while doing school or work from home.

Some Great Headphones  – My kids love the HyperX Cloud Alpha over the ear headphones, but we also use AirPods. These will still be useful after lockdown ends.


Tushy – No more toilet paper shortages. Seriously. Try it. Give it as a gift, especially to the person who wants to go green and eliminate waste while they are…eliminating waste. (Toilet paper uses up paper and comes wrapped in plastic. Not very earth-friendly.) Your friend’s tushy and the earth will thank you. 

A Doorbell camera – Let your friends or family watch for those deliveries from the comfort of the couch.

Sonicare Toothbrush  – For awhile, we could not go to the dentist. But when we could go back, the dentist reminded us how important a good toothbrush is. Sure, you might not want to give this to your office co-worker. But to someone really special, a Sonicare toothbrush is a gift that will make them smile. 

For Parents

Outschool – Again this is something we used before the lockdown, during the lockdown, and will use after the lockdown. Outschool not only helps with academics, it inspires curiosity and lifelong learning. It’s a gift that pleases parents and kids.

Kiwi Crate – For the hands-on learners, Kiwi Crate is a great option when school is closed – whether due to lockdown or summer break. It’s also just FUN. I had a subscription for myself for awhile and loved the simple, satisfying science-based crafts. Give this gift, get thanks. 

Highlights for Children – Not all fun happens on screens. Even if the dentist closes, you can still get Highlights for Children at home. And you can get entire books of Hidden Pictures and other puzzles! The joke books alone kept us laughing. And who doesn’t love getting mail? Give a gift subscription that will be the highlight of their celebration.


AllTrails Pro – Lots of folks spent more time outdoors in 2020. Hopefully they keep it up after lockdown. For those who aren’t super experienced hiking nearby (or not so nearby trails) a subscription to All Trails Pros helps them stay safe and have fun.

A Bird Feeder – Did your friend start watching birds like a zillion other people? A lovely bird feeder (especially an oriole feeder that can hold oranges and grape jelly) would be a great gift. Find an Audubon Near You and shop their store!

Cornell Bird Academy classes – For the friend who really got into bird watching, there is nothing like learning about birds from the Cornell Lab. A gift certificate to All About Birds will have your friends crowing with delight. (Not sorry.)


Did you receive a great gift in 2020 that you know will still be perfect in 2021 and beyond? Let me know. I need some ideas!


When Your Book is Published!

It never gets old – celebrating when your book is published is fantastic! I was so thrilled to visit my local bookstore (Support those independent bookstores!!) and hold these books in my hands.

photo of me holding three new graphic novels


You can find these books at YOUR local bookstore, too!

Sweet Quest for the Unicorn’s Horn

A taste for sweets (and for adventure) leads Michael on a fantastic quest to retrieve a unicorn horn. Will he make it out of Sweetlandia with his sugar-coated prize, or wash out in a fudgy wave of failure? Find out more in this graphic novel!

Even Fairies Bake Mistakes

Dill is a fairy who loves to bake. His recipes are tried-and-true. His flavors are on point. There’s only one problem–everything he bakes is a disaster! Will his new friend, Ada, help Dill win the Fairyland Baking Contest? Or will Dill’s latest creations turn out to be big, burned mistakes? Find out in this graphic novel!

Mermaid Midfielders

Meet Mei, a mythical mermaid midfielder on the lookout for a new teammate! She scouts Megan, a human who’s got the skills on land. With a helpful magical tail (and a little practice), Megan swims onto the field. Will she become the next undersea soccer star? Find out more in this graphic novel!


How Storytelling Helped Me as a Mom

We all love a good story.

This is the heart of the practical takeaways I shared in my interview with Rachel Nielson, the host of the incredible 3 in 30 Podcast.

My episode “Using Your Own Stories as a Parenting Tool” aired in January 2021, but the ideas we discussed work any time of year.

Rachel’s podcast has so many other terrific episodes. If you’re a writer, illustrator, or any kind of creative, the episode on “How to Hold Space for Your Creativity as a Parent” is perfect for you.

Follow 3 in 30 on Instagram

How to Write a Good Story and Bake a Good Pie

I’ve baked lots of things that taste better than they look. But about a week ago I baked something that looked better than it tasted.

It was my first meringue pie, and it did look very nice. I was so proud.

But it wasn’t quite as sweet or spiced as I hoped. It was a tad too bland, I think. And the cream was overwhelming.

I feel deflated.

I didn’t have any trouble with the mechanics of baking the pie (for once!). It was honestly pretty easy to make the crust, the cream filling, and the meringue. Nothing burned, turned, or curdled.

But when they were all combined, the result was just…blah.

Sometimes we write stories like that. The mechanics are there. There aren’t any grammatical errors. There are characters, some kind of an arc, and an ending.

But without that salivating something that adds the irresistible flavor, the something that sends you out of bed for just one more slice… it’s disappointing.

That’s OK.

Not everything we bake or write will be perfect.

But each time we practice, we learn to master the basic elements so we can focus our creative energy on adding more flavor. Something unique that will set it apart. That perfect combination of sweetness and spice that makes each bite unforgettable and each page utterly turnable.

So I’ll try again. I’ll add more spice. Maybe a tad more sugar. Something unique – maybe something not even in the recipe that I love! Something to make it stand out. And I’ll add that into my story, too.

(I’m enjoying learning about making pies from Kate McDermott’s books Pie Camp and the Art of the Pie. They are a fun read even if you don’t want to make pie with useful life lessons, too!)

P.S. – if you’re stuck on a story, I highly recommend trying to make cream on the stove top. Cream requires constant stirring so I find myself forced into meditative thinking. It’s mesmerizing and helped me imagine a new start to an old story.

How to Revise a Manuscript

Many writers want to know more about how to revise a manuscript. There are lots of ways to tackle this important but often difficult part of writing.

I spent a lot of time revising my book The Science and Technology of Leonardo da VinciAs you can read in the interview, one of the toughest spots was revising the hands-on activities for readers.

I’m so grateful to Shay Fan, the author of the blog From First Draft to Final Book for inviting me to share my revision story!

New Book Deal!

I’m thrilled to announce that I have signed with the incredible Miranda Paul as my agent and that I have a book deal with Chicago Review Press! Stay tuned for details as I work on this exciting project!

book contract announcement

Good Board Game: Mariposas

I really love a good board game. One of my favorites right now is Mariposas by Elizabeth Hargrave (aka The Board Game Genius).

Mariposas is based on the generational migration of monarch butterflies from Michoacán to Canada and back. There are only three seasons and each season has a limited number of turns. It’s fast, fun, gorgeous and challenging!

mariposas board game



There aren’t a ton of pieces either, which makes the game easy to set up and start playing. The goal is simple: collect food from flowers so you can get fourth generation butterflies back to their wintering place in Michoacán. You earn points for a variety of other achievements, like collecting one of each flower type, or having one butterfly on each of three color hexagons at the end of a season.

The flowers are real flowers, too. The board game doesn’t include the names, but thanks to BoardGameGeek we know they are:


Big cities that have way stations offer special bonuses. Waystations are real – they are intentionally created to help monarchs on their migration.

My husband and I willingly play several games in a row. He’s proposed a variation where we flip over the waystation tokens at the start of the game so we know what’s hidden there. I’m all for trying it out. Let me know if you have this game and if you try the waystation reveal variation!


Ask An Author Premier

I’m excited about a new project for 2021: Ask An Author.

When I was a kid, I wrote all the time. I wrote stories in notebooks. I typed stories on my grandfather’s old typewriter. I sent letters to friends and family that were a mix of fact and fiction. I read and wrote, wrote and read. I thought about how great it would be to write books myself.

I always wanted to be a writer. But I also wanted to help other people who wanted to be writers, too. I started a literary journal for our school when I was in seventh grade. We had some great stories and poems from kids in all grades.

Now I’m a professional writer. But I always was a real writer because I wrote whenever I could. I’m still amazed I’m a writer today – and I’m also still interested in helping other people become writers. That’s why I’m introducing Ask An Author.

Ask An Author is a chance for young writers to ask me, a real author, any questions they have. I’ll answer the questions in a YouTube video. I can include names and ages if you want, but I can also keep things anonymous.

You can email me questions, post them here, send them on Twitter – however you want to ask them. I’ll answer honestly and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll say that, too. And I’ll find someone who might know!

So let those young readers know they have a chance to Ask An Author questions about being a writer, being an author, writing books, magazines, fiction, nonfiction, critique, revision and everything in between!