Shotbox – My New Favorite Tool

Hi folks! Today I am excited to tell you about my new favorite tool: The Shotbox.

My Shotbox

Shotbox is an easy to use, portable, fully collapsable, powerful lightbox that gives a professional look to every photo I take. It is designed to take pictures with your phone but works equally well with a fancy camera and tripod.

I want you to know that I have an affiliation with Shotbox. This means that if someone purchases a Shotbox via links on my site I get a tiny commission.

That’s great and all, but you know what’s even more fabulous?

My Shotbox.

I was introduced to Shotbox last summer at a conference. At that time, the product was still in the prototype phase. I spent most of the conference trying out the Shotbox and peppering the inventor, Aaron Johnson, with questions.

The fact that Aaron was co-creator of the Cricut machine (an amazing product familiar to crafters and anyone who has ever stepped foot inside a Michael’s store), gave him serious credibility in my eyes.

By the end of the weekend, I had gone from being intrigued by the idea to being so sold on Shotbox that I joined their Kickstarter campaign.

Shotbox 120×600

Perfect for bloggers, scrapbookers, artists, crafters or anyone who wants to take crisp, clean pictures, the only limit to the Shotbox is the imagination of the user.

Even in the hands of an accountant like me, the Shotbox creates great shots.

The base unit sells for $129. There are several accessories, including the must-have SideShot ($40).

(You can see the SideShot hanging on the front of my Shotbox in the picture above.)

This nifty little number provides an extra light source to help diffuse shadows and a platform on which a phone can be positioned and adjusted to take pictures from an almost infinite number of angles. Beyond amazing!

Of course, you could just do what I did and purchase the deluxe Shotbox bundle for $199. The bundle includes the lightbox, the indespensible SideShot, a fancy carrying bag and four backdrops (white, black, blue and green).

The heavy vinyl backdrops hang from the top of the back wall and extend all the way to the front of the box floor creating a great, clean stage for photos like this from my post about planning a wine tasting party.

wine tasting party tips wine charm

Once you start playing around with your Shotbox, you will come up with all sorts of creative ideas.

I picked up a bunch of colored and patterned scrapbook pages from Michael’s to use as a background.

I hung the scrapbook page on the back wall of the Shotbox using painter’s tape for easy repositioning and removal, then took some random things from around my house to create these:

A collection of corks –

Collection of corks

We always have plenty of corks on hand. The box is the holder for a stack of coasters.

Or how about this?

Shotbox wine bottle photo

Looks like a wine bottle sitting on a table against the exposed brick wall of a café, right?

Imagine if you were an artist or crafter with an Etsy shop.

Shotbox art display

Or if you were a blogger writing a post about your favorite things.

It could be a Nest candle “resting on the grass”.

Shotbox Nest candle on grass

Maybe a more zen-like, spa type feel.

Shotbox Nest candle

With a little editing on PicMonkey, I created this fun graphic for my post about choosing your own house wine.

I prefer French Chardonnay

These photos were all created by using items around my house and a couple of dollar’s worth of scrapbook pages from Michael’s.

Shotbox supplies

And, they were taken using my iPhone 5s. Easy peasy!

Are you starting to see all of the possibilities?

Among the many great qualities of the Shotbox is that it takes seconds to set up and take down and folds up compactly for easy storage.

Shotbox collapsed

My entire Shotbox bundle…

Shotbox bundle equipment

fits neatly into the carrying bag for easy transport and storage – though in truth, I use it almost every day so it rarely sees the inside of a closet.

Shotbox bag full of equipment

Friends, I’m not a salesperson – I’m terrible at it. I’m just a fan who LOVES her Shotbox and wants to share this fun tool with you.

This video from Shotbox does a great job showing how the product works.

Check this out:

If you have any questions, let me know. And if you are interested in learning more, check out the Shotbox website.

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The Randomest of Random Gift Guides

It’s that time of year – crunch time. Time for triage shopping.

The start of Hanukkah is around the corner and Christmas only nine days later.

This is the time that we rely on quick shipping like Amazon Prime.

I have a confession.

When Amazon Prime was first introduced I jumped right on the bandwagon. Free shipping and I will get my stuff in TWO days?!?! What could be better.

Then I got a little addicted to the speedy shipping. Once in a while I even paid the up-charge to get my stuff in ONE day. But sometimes even that is not fast enough.

Where are those drones?? Taking a coffee break?? Surely I should be able to get my VERY IMPORTANT ORDER by lunchtime today!

Patience is a virtue that I am sometimes lacking, particularly when I have procrastinated and need the speed to get a gift to the recipient on time.

Fear not, there is still enough time to get your gifts if you act soon.


If your shopping list is like mine, you are looking for the perfect gift for a wide array of ages and interests. Perhaps this gift guide, with no particular theme whatsoever, can help check a few items off your list.

The Book Of Frank

The Book of Frank

I think we can all agree that teachers are Super Heroes. These special women and men make a difference in the lives of children every single day.

The Book of Frank is the sweet and funny telling of lessons learned in a year of the life of a kindergarten teacher and her rascally student, Frank. Written by Debbie Marsh, the author of the hilarious blog VodkamomThe Book of Frank is a work of fiction but surely reflects stories and characters that Debbie has encountered in her 26+ years as an elementary school teacher.

In spite of challenges presented by Frank and some of his cohorts, it is very clear that the fictional teacher (aka Debbie) is hugely successful in achieving her stated goal of helping children to love school. Even – especially – the spicy ones like Frank.

At just over 100 pages, this is a very quick read. It is the perfect gift for teachers and for anyone who admires and appreciates the patient and talented educators who influence generation after generation.

It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. You should buy this book.

Available at Amazon.

Death At A Distance

Death At A Distance

Does anyone on your gift list fall into one or more of these categories: loves murder mysteries, has run a marathon, has ever lived in or visited Chicago?

If so (or even if not) Death At A Distance is an excellent gift for the readers in your family.

First time author, Mark Nystuen brings us the story of Erick Anderssen, a former Chicago Tribune reporter who now writes adventure “how-to” books to satisfy thrill seekers of a certain age. Erick is convinced to write his next book about training for and running in the Chicago Marathon. The problem is, people around him keep getting killed and he has to figure out why.

The book is full of references to Chicago which I loved.

But beyond that, it is a compelling read, tough to put down and features really, really well developed characters. You will love some of the characters and dislike others but you will be captivated by all and interested in what happens to them all.

I am anxiously awaiting the next book in this series! Mark, can you get working on that?

Also available at Amazon.

Lou Malnati’s Pizza

Lou Malnati's Pizza


My love of Chicago deep dish pizza has been well documented.

Lou Malnati’s makes it possible to share the deliciousness of deep dish pizza with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

You can choose from a variety of flavors and receive partially baked and frozen pizzas, packed in dry ice, ready to stick in your freezer for later or your oven for RIGHT NOW.

You have the option of selecting two pizzas for $59.99, four pizzas for $85.99 or six pizzas for $108.99 and two-day shipping is included in the price of each package.

Many of us feel like we have way too much “stuff”. I love giving the gift of something consumable that can be enjoyed but won’t take up room in the recipients closet.

These also make great corporate gifts. The team at Taste of Chicago are super helpful and will make sure your order is processed quickly and smoothly.

Plus, the pizza is delicious.

Bounty Hunter Fine Wine

Bounty Hunter Catalog

I bet you wondered when I was going to get to the wine. Well here you are.

The ultimate consumable gift!

Shopping for wine as a gift can be quite daunting. What’s good, what’s not? Maybe I want to splurge on a pricey bottle of wine. I sure want to get my money’s worth.

That is where the fine and talented folks at Bounty Hunter come to the rescue.

These wine loving Californians scour the world for delicious vino in every price point. Their description of the wines both entertains and informs. The website is very easy to navigate and has tabs for reds, whites, gifts, 90+ point wines, highly rated under $20 and more.

And if you need some personal help, just call a Wine Scout (ask for Alan – tell him Mo sent you).

If you have a serious wine lover on your list and want to splurge a bit, check out Bounty Hunter’s wine clubs.

We belong to lots and lots of wine clubs (just ask our UPS man…) and this one is our absolute favorite because of the variety we receive in each shipment. Bounty Hunter is able to bring their customers wines that you just can’t find anywhere else.

I promise that there is a wine in Bounty Hunter’s collection for absolutely everyone!

Von Maur

Von Maur

photo from

This fabulous and beautiful department store is on my list because they offer free gift wrapping and free shipping. Always.

You can shop Von Maur’s beautiful website just as if you were strolling their aisles being entertained by the live piano player. Everything from clothing to handbags, accessories and jewelry to gifts and collectibles is available to you.

Let’s say you are buying gifts for several different people at different addresses. At most shopping websites you would have to create separate orders for each shipping address. Not at Von Maur!

Once you have filled up your virtual cart, you can designate which items go together as a gift, create a gift note and choose your wrapping paper. And you can do this, all in one order, for each address to which you are shipping.

I’m telling you – this store is awesome. I use their great service for gift giving all year ’round.

But even the elves at Von Maur have deadlines – shop by December 12th to guarantee delivery by Christmas!

(By the way, I have received no compensation from any of the people or businesses mentioned. These really, truly are all places and things I have shopped for, shopped at, enjoyed and given at gifts.)

Good luck with your shopping! Let me know if you have any random suggestions or tips of your own!

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10 Commandments of Grandparent Gift Giving

How sweet was yesterday’s Kelly post about Henry and Meredith’s snow globe?  Today it’s my turn again as I bring you day six of:

Partners in a Pair Tree – Kelly and Mo Celebrate December

In the almost 15 months since I became a grandmother, I’ve come to realize a few things about grandparent gift giving. Now remember, my 10 Commandments are just my thoughts and suggestions and are not meant to come across as bossy.

Although calling them commandments definitely reads “BOSSY” in all caps.

Oh well, here goes.

Grandparent Gift Giving

1.  Parents get veto power – always.

As noted in my grandmother manifesto, this is the golden rule of grandparent behavior.  Sometimes we think it is our prerogative to spoil or grandchildren and buy them things their parents say no to.  Not a good plan.

Please seek input from the parents before buying a drum set or a chemistry kit or some toy with 10 million pieces.

2.  Follow the age guidelines on packages.

Of course we all know that our grandchildren are profoundly gifted and capable of tasks far beyond their years but keep in mind those age ranges are put on toys for a reason. It might be that there are small parts that would be dangerous in little hands or the toy might require assembly that would create unnecessary frustration without the right level of fine motor skills development.

3.  Always include batteries.  

Actually this should be a guiding principal for all gift giving.

4.  If thank you notes are important to you, let the parents know.

Writing thank you notes is a wonderful and valuable skill to learn.  But it’s up to the parents to teach and encourage that skill. Don’t blame the kids if they’ve never been taught. And maybe don’t make thank you notes a condition for future gifts. That’s a little passive-aggressive, no?

5.  Quality not Quantity is important.

Your grandchildren will not measure your love by the number of packages under the tree. What’s important is your thoughtfulness.

6.  Don’t play favorites.

I know that girls are easier to shop for than boys and that younger children are easier to shop for than teenagers but that doesn’t mean that you should shortchange your 16 year-old grandson in favor of his 3 year-old sister. No favorites – even if you really do have a favorite – which you shouldn’t.  (Boy, the bossy-meter is really lighting up on this one.)

7.  Time with you is sometimes the best present of all.

Consider a gift of a special day with grandma and grandpa. Maybe you can start a new tradition of a trip to the zoo or out to lunch.  Your grandchildren get your undivided attention and their parents get a little time to themselves. It’s a gift for both.

8.  Consider a gift for the future. 

Does your grandchild have a saving account? Or a college fund? How about contributing a little to that each year. Even at today’s super low interest rates, money left in a savings account for 18 years will grow and grow.

9.  Start a gift tradition.

As my kids were growing up, Peter’s parents gave them an ornament each year.  Each one is a sweet reminder of their childhood. My friend Nora’s sister gave each of her nieces and nephews a set of Christmas pajamas every year (and not the pink fuzzy bunny footie pajamas that Ralphie’s grandma gave in The Christmas Story). These are the kinds of traditions that are appreciated by children more and more as they grow up.

10.  Whatever you do, do it with love.

No matter your budget, no matter your circumstances, all that is really important is the love you show for your grandchildren. They will feel it and it will bring them great comfort and joy.

Love, comfort and joy.  Isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?

Did I miss anything? Be honest, was I too bossy? Do you have a gift tradition in your family?

Partners in a Pair Tree

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Married For A Million Years Shower

Saturday I was at a bridal shower for my friend, Clare’s, son and his fiancee. My table was made up of women, all of whom have been married for well over a quarter century. As the bride and groom-to-be opened their gifts, we mused about throwing each other a “Married for a Million Years” Shower since everything we got at our bridal showers is lost, broken or obsolete.

Back in the day, there was no Crate and Barrel, William Sonoma, Pottery Barn or Sur La Table. We had Macy’s – actually it was Marshall Field’s – and that was about it. And there were no celebrity lines from Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay or Rachel Ray. Can you imagine?!?! The closest thing we had to a celebrity was Mr. Coffee.

We were all a little envious of the super cool gifts being unwrapped in front of us. For instance, when the adorable couple ooohed and ahhhed over this:

I thought of what I started out with:

Does the trick but not nearly as cool.

There were these fancy-pants silicone cake pans:

I still have the old metal, non-teflon cake pans from back in the stone ages. No matter how much I grease and flour those suckers, my cakes usually come out in pieces requiring frosting to be used as cement to hold the whole thing together. Now I’m a frosting girl myself so I don’t really mind but let’s just say that my cakes are not “Pinterest worthy”.

When the future bride unwrapped a couple of silpats (a lot of silicone going on here!),

my friends Nora and Sheila waxed nostalgic about their old Tupperware pastry mats, saying that they were even better than these new-fangled non-stick wonders because the Tupperware mats have markings to help measure your pie crust.

“Do you know who else has measurements for pie crusts?”, I asked. “The frozen food section of my grocery store.”

You might have picked up on the fact that I’m not much of a baker, or really a cook of any kind but I’m sure I would be AWESOME if only I had the advantage of the latest gadgets!

I am a coffee drinker, though. Back in my day, when we were registering for wedding gifts, there was one choice of a coffee maker: Mr Coffee. Oh, I guess there were two choices: Mr Coffee 4-cup or Mr. Coffee 12-cup.

It must take weeks to research, analyze and select the perfect coffee maker to include on your registry with all of the choices out there today.  In fact, when I typed “coffee makers” in the Amazon search box it came back with 31,039 results – no lie.

And I’m glad to see that my friend Mr. Coffee is still going strong.

True confession: the real reason I would want to register for shower gifts would be to have the opportunity to run around the store with the scanner gun. Who doesn’t love them and their beepity beeping?

I would seriously consider changing my car insurance if I thought that Flo really would give me a scanner gun to shop for my own policy. But I think that’s just a tease. Bummer.

Perhaps the prudent thing to do would be to go out and buy the things I need to bring my kitchen up to the 21st century. But then I’d probably have to use them…

Please note that the pictures shown here are from I am an Amazon Affiliate which means if you decide you can’t live without one of these items, click and purchase I will earn a couple of pennies. The truth is I needed pictures and Amazon had them.

And speaking of pictures, I am linking this post to the September Sapphire Even Day Blog Challenge for today’s topic: Picturesque – describe a recent day using pictures.  Nailed it!

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