Tag Archives: creativity

Commonplace Books – What They Are and Reasons to Keep One

Commonplace 1

What is a commonplace book?  Well, it seems that it is something that I’ve kept most of my life.  It isn’t a journal or diary or travel log; it is far different than those.  A journal or diary typically contain a daily record of events or business.  A travel log may contain details of various trips, purposes behind them and so on.  A commonplace book is very different in originally it would contain quotes, thoughts, proverbs and other “wisdom” that the keeper wanted to remember.  Some were copy books.  Others, like Carl Linnaeus’, organized something systematically; he  used commonplacing techniques to invent and arrange the nomenclature of his Systema Naturae.  Per Wikipedia, “Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.”

I tended to make my early versions into notebooks full (or mostly full) of little tidbits. My earlier notebooks were mostly quotes that I liked, books I wanted to read or that others recommended to me, the occasional movie title and description, and so on.   I have found that I keep different types or combinations of things in my commonplace books, depending on how my life is going at the moment or what is going on in my life.  When I have tough times, I tend to include humorous stories, funny cartoons, jokes, upbeat and inspirational quotes and websites that I find helpful.  I also have noticed my mood changes or shifts by the books that I note in my commonplace book.  I think commonplace books offer a different way to note and track changes in our lives.  I have also kept these at work as well, with the topics mirroring work I was doing, concerns I had, or things I needed to remember or to do.  Of course, with work documents, caution is advised; proprietary information must be protected. Always, always, always follow corporate policy with regard to company information.  (I am definitely not advocating information theft!) Someone following behind me may have found my tips and ideas helpful – or they may have just shredded them.

What can a commonplace book be used for?  Well, practically anything.  It can be a useful note-taking tool  while writing a book; you can keep research notes, books to use, character name ideas, location descriptions and more.  It can be useful in defining an idea – keeping all of the details flowing but allowing you to notate everything in one location.  It can be used to create a reference of inspirational quotes that you found useful – quotes specifically helpful to YOU, not necessarily everyone else.  It can be used to help organize your thoughts, your day, your studies. A combination of quotes and commentary on books read can be helpful as well.  The ideas for usage are limitless – well, perhaps limited only by imagination!  I am thinking of keeping one for my blogs;  I think it would be helpful to keep research notes, topic ideas, scheduling, and more all in one place.  Of course, I might also make that one section of a commonplace book.


Benefits of Keeping a Commonplace Book

A commonplace book may be an old idea, but definitely not outdated.  Today’s commonplace book may even look different; now, rather than writing things down, you can keep them electronically.  This allows for storage of words, images, videos, and all sorts of medias, all in one place.  Other benefits include:

  • Reinforcing learning – many people remember things better if they write things down.
  • Accumulation of information in one readily accessible location
  • Increased creativity – it can help us see patterns in various pieces of information, and help us create or discover connections.
  • Filter information – a commonplace book can help you filter the overwhelming amount of information that bombards us daily.  This is a place to record only what is significant or seems significant.
  • Organizing thoughts – basically making order out of chaos.  If you organize your thoughts in the book, you can see development and change over time; you can also see flaws in logic and so forth when you go back to previous notations

Whether you keep an electronic or a paperback version depends on what your goals are, what your preferences are, and perhaps which one is more frequently available to you.  An electronic version may allow you to include kinds of media such as videos, music, and images.  It can also be accessed from anywhere with internet access if you keep it online.  On the other hand, in a power outage, you lose access.  In addition, a paper version requires personal writing, which can aid memory.

Steps for Keeping a Commonplace Book

  1. Electronic or paper?  Choose your medium.  Weigh the benefits of both and chose the best one for your circumstances and preferences.  Blogs can be used for this, as can Pinterest and other similar sites, at least to some extent. I have also seen suggestions for Evernote, Tumnblr, and OnSwipe, among others.  Frankly, I prefer pen and paper.  For me, actually physically writing something out helps me remember things better than typing them out.  In addition, I can doodle, draw, and sketch to my heart’s delight. Others find electronic versions more appropriate or desirable.  Some of the benefits of keeping it electronically are portability, ability to combine pictures, calendars, notes, and more; in addition, electronic versions are more readily divided into sections, arranged and re-arranged.
  2. Contents?  Well, some people record quotes that they find interesting or thought-provoking.  Others use them as almost a reading journal, listing books that they want to or do read, thoughts on what they’ve read, and reactions to the reading.  Other people record recipes, notes, ideas, life lessons, heroes, song lyrics, clippings from newspapers, and important pictures. There are people who create music commonplace books,
  3. Another thing to consider is organization.  If you don’t organize your book in some way, you will struggle to find any information when you want it.  One idea is a section for list of books to read, another for quotes from the book, and interpretations and other material.    Ways to create sections depend on the medium you are using; there are tabs (permanent and sticky-note type) that you can add to blank books, you can use tabs in 3-ring notebooks, and you can break up blogs into pages or use labels/tags as well.  Organize before you start writing; trust me, it is easier this way!  I didn’t do this with my early versions and I found them difficult to work with in the end.  Some people organize their books by project.  Others use their commonplace books as devotional work, research records, or work toward a book.

Well-known People Who Kept Commonplace Books

H. P. Lovecraft

John Locke

Francis Bacon

E. M. Forster –

  • Clarissa Harlowe. Have read 1/3 of. Long books, when read, are usually overpraised, because the reader wants to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.”
    (E.M. Forster in 1926, excerpt from Commonplace Book, ed. by Philip Gardner. Stanford Univ. Press, 1988)

Victor Hugo

Washington Irving

John Hancock

Commonplace 2


My current commonplace book is a Miquelrius notebook with a soft leather cover.  At the moment it is rather similar to a day planner, with calendars added in by me and notes on weekly activities.  However, it is much more than that.  I have made note of sites that I’ve found helpful over approximately the last eight months (like PopClogs), as well as inspirational quotes and things that I need to remember.  I’ve noted my daughter’s height and weight changes between visits to her doctor, which has shown that she is steadily growing, not too fast and not too slow.  I’ve included lists of books that I’ve checked out and enjoyed, books that I want to buy eventually, and books that others have recommended to me.  All in all, it is a convenient bundle of information, readily accessible anytime it is needed.


Suggested reading and sources of information for this article:

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Stress Relief Gift Ideas

You can put together simple baskets with various products that help reduce stress. Some ideas include the following:

  1. Music lovers. Find a nice basket and include the following: a relaxation CD, a CD of classical music or lullabies, nature sounds, and/or a CD or two of the recipient’s favorite music (preferably something soothing, not violent or vibrant). You could also include tickets to a concert, a video tape of a concert that the recipient wanted to see, or something along those lines.
  2. Spa basket. Find a nice basket, line it with a soft washcloth or hand towel. Then put a container of bath salts or bath oils, a bottle of scented bubble bath, an inflatable pillow, and body lotion. You could include a bath blanket and/or slippers if you wanted to make a complete spa basket, or simply use the scented products for a smaller basket.
  3. Aromatherapy basket. Good ideas for an aromatherapy basket include scented candles, candle holders, matches or some way to light the candles. You could also include incense and an incense holder, if the recipient likes incense.
  4. Humor basket. Fill a basket with humorous comic strips, funny books, tapes of comedians, or videos of comedian “concerts”. Go with the favorites of the recipient or of people or comics that you think they would enjoy.
  5. Exercise/relaxation basket: Be careful with this one, since it could give the wrong impression. However, you can create a nice basket with relaxation tapes, books on yoga, a yoga mat (would require a bigger basket!), and the like. Another choice would be books on meditation, candles, candle holders, and similar items.
  6. Soup/crackers/cheese basket: A large soup mug/bowl, a can or two of the recipient’s favorite soup, and a package of crackers and some cheese would make a nice basket for someone. Soup is frequently considered a comfort food, particularly in cold weather.

Another suggestion is to simply take the stressed person out to lunch or dinner and simply lend a friendly ear. Sometimes simply talking, whether it is about the stressors or not, helps tremendously.


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Gift Baskets for Groups

It is fairly easy to put together a gift basket for groups of people or for multiple recipients. The choice of contents, as usual, simply depends on the recipients. In this case, the environment (office, family, siblings, whole families, church groups, et cetera) also makes a difference.

For offices, some ideas are as follows:

  • Mix of snack items: pretzels (chocolate-covered or plain), nuts (should be a sealed package in case of allergies), popcorn, seasonal candies, cheese and crackers, and so on.
  • Hot chocolates/teas/coffees: It would be easy to buy a variety of whichever of those you chose, then mix and match in a basket. You could even use the multiple packages to put together several similar baskets. If you create a coffee basket, you could include non-dairy creamers (the powdered versions). Another idea is to buy boxes of each (or packages of each, like sampler packages of flavored coffees and flavored hot chocolates) and make a combination basket for an office.
  • Cheese/sausage/pepperoni
  • Mini-muffins
  • Candies – include sugarfree, non-chocolate

If you are talking about a gift basket for multiple adults, then you might consider the following ideas:

  • Poker supplies
  • Card games, pads of paper for score-keeping, and pencils or pens
  • Mixture of candies or snacks (as above)
  • The ingredients for a meal they might enjoy (like fixings for spaghetti, pizza, or soup)

For families, the choices really aren’t much different – it just depends on tastes and on how much you want to spend:

  • Selection of candies: chocolate and non-chocolate, fancy or regular
  • Selection of cookies: homemade is always wonderful, but there is nothing wrong with a variety of store-bought, either!
  • Selection of games: cards, dice (like for a game called “10,000”, Yahtzee, or other small games make a nice basket, if you know that is what they enjoy.
  • Movie night basket: pick a movie that the recipients like or include a gift card to a rental place. Then pick out candies, popcorn, and a soda. Put it all in a big bowl for the popcorn. And there you go – movie night!
  • Pizza making kit: it is easy to find the ingredients for an easy pizza at the supermarket these days. Simply pick out the base, some pre-grated mozzerella (or a cheese they prefer), a jar of pizza sauce and maybe some pepperoni and you are set. If you aren’t going to be able to give it to them quickly, you may want to leave out the cheese and just let the recipients pick the one refrigerated ingredient themselves.
  • Food/games: this could be a combination of snacks and small games like Yahtzee, “10,000”, cards, and so on. If you put the items in a basket with a top or a plastic organizer, then they can store it that way normally, which is nice.

For children, the choices are incredible. A few ideas are:

  • Mad Libs, puzzles, word searches, pencils, pens and paper
  • Mixes of candies/cookies
  • Mix of both of the above

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Ideas for Food Gift Baskets

You can make food gift baskets relatively inexpensively or as expensively as you would like. All it takes really is knowing what your recipient enjoys and going with that basic idea.

For people who love Italian foods, you can make an Italian Night gift basket. I’ve seen this done using a colander as the basket. Line the colander with a kitchen towel, then add a bottle of spaghetti sauce, a loaf of Italian bread, Parmesan cheese, and a box of pasta of some sort. You can also add wine, if you think it appropriate. Another choice for Italian lovers would be a basket with several different Italian wines, cheese, and a CD of Italian musicians.

For those who love chocolates, you can put together a nice Chocolate Lovers’ gift basket easily. If you know that they prefer higher-priced chocolates, simply buy small samplers of Godiva or something similar, along with hot chocolate and a mug to make it in, and maybe some flavorings to add to the hot chocolate. If they like less expensive brands, you could pick out a variety of candy bars and make a basket with those, in addition to some Christmas-themed candies like Santas, chocolate/peanut butter trees, and so on.

For a Bread Lover’s Gift Basket, simply buy several types of quickbread mixes from the grocery store, some mini-loaf pans to bake them in, and the eggs, etc. that you will need to make the loaves. Bake the loves, let them cool, then wrap them well in plastic wrap. Put one or two of each type in the basket, along with a container of honey, a cup with some tea, or maybe a CD that they would like and top it off with a kitchen towel. For something simpler, simply line a basket with a kitchen towel, then place the mini-loaves in the basket, and make that the entire gift. You could also make the mini-loaves as mini-muffins, if you prefer that form.

For a wine, bread, and cheese basket, simply find an appropriate basket and a nice bottle of wine. Then look for a cheese to go with the wine. If you purchase the wine from a winery, you could ask for suggestions. In addition, you should be able to get an inexpensive freshly baked loaf of bread from the grocery store. I would set up the basket just before you leave to deliver it, storing the bread and cheese appropriately.

Some people really enjoy hot chocolate or tea. For a Hot Beverage basket, you can mix and match various packets of flavored or plain hot chocolates, marshmallows, and a mug. For the tea lover, either get them a flavor you know that they like or perhaps get a selection of teas. If it is loose tea, include a tea ball or something similar. You could also include sugar cubes or honey, depending on the preferences of the recipient.

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101 Gift Ideas On a Budget

  1. A pound of cashews/pistachios/etc. for the nut lover
  2. A teapot/cup with tea for the tea lover
  3. A coffee mug with biscotti and several sample size gourmet coffees
  4. A cute platter with cookies or baked goods on it
  5. A tin filled with baked goods with the recipes
  6. Gardening gloves with a trowel or other tool or with a plant or seeds
  7. Basket filled with fancy chocolates
  8. Movie night gift: basket with gift certificate for movie rental, box(es) of candy, soda, bag of microwave popcorn
  9. Housewarming gift: postcards that say “we’ve moved” with stamps
  10. Note cards and stamps
  11. Nice glass candy dish (try an antique shop or a flea market!) filled with candy
  12. Books – try a book sale or a used book shop for unusual finds
  13. Prepaid phone cards
  14. For the bread lover: home-baked bread with the recipe
  15. From the dollar store: candles, bath mitt, body wash to make up a gift basket
  16. Italian night for a family: colander with a jar of spaghetti sauce, a package of pasta, and a loaf of Italian bread
  17. Make mini-loaves of quick bread mixes from the grocery store; give to multiple people as a small gift.
  18. Make stationery on your computer and printer. Design it in a word processing program, buy colored paper (or white if you prefer) and print it yourself. You could even buy matching envelopes, stamps, and stickers to seal the envelope if you wanted to get fancy.
  19. Make a “quote a day” jar with quotes you find amusing or inspirational, print on colored paper, cut apart, fold up, then place them in a nice jar or container. I’ve done this for years for my mother and she loves it.
  20. Get a rubber stamp and make note cards (and matching envelopes).
  21. This one requires planning ahead: buy a blank book or journal and fill it with quotes that remind you of the recipient, newspaper or magazine clippings that they’d be interested in, stories of the two of you together, and pictures of you together, etc.
  22. If you are good with kids, offer to babysit.
  23. If you enjoy cooking, offer to make dinner.
  24. Give an “experience” – go out to lunch and a movie with a friend, take someone who doesn’t get out much shopping, go hiking together, do something you both enjoy together.
  25. If you are good at cleaning, clean house for someone who’s working extra shifts (or who has a newborn!).
  26. Make sachet bags for dresser drawers/closets. This does not take much fabric or potpourri to make a nice set.
  27. Get magnetized shopping pads for the refrigerator; everybody goes shopping or needs to make notes at some point.
  28. Get decorative boxes that remind you of the recipient – they are great for organizing small things.
  29. If you know someone who is short of time and behind on laundry, do it for them.
  30. For someone who is really busy or just not up to cooking, make a week’s worth of meals and put them in easy-to-reheat containers in the fridge or freezer. (Mark with the date cooked.)
  31. Thank you gift? A simple thank you note. Many people don’t write notes anymore, so this would be a nice surprise.
  32. Have a greeting mailed from the White House; mind you, these are available only for a limited number of events, but you can find information here for these greetings.
  33. Make a simple Christmas ornament; there are a lot of interesting ideas out there. Try going to your local craft store for ideas – or check out a library book. One idea is to buy a ceramic ornament from the craft store, along with either the proper paints to decorate it or press-and-stick decorations.
  34. Buy a plain tote bag from a craft store and decorate it with fabric paints, iron-ons, or whatever you would like. They make good book bags.
  35. Crochet an afghan. This can be easy to do even on a budget. Simply buy the no-dye-lot yarn – and don’t buy exotic colors. If you do that, they should continue to have the yarn in stock and you would not need to buy it all at once. Another idea would be to make a rainbow colored afghan so that you could simply buy colors you like as you go.
  36. Crochet or knit scarves for those you know in cold climates. Handmade scarves are much nicer than store-bought.
  37. Make a personal care gift basket: fill with finger nail polish/polish remover/cotton balls, makeup/makeup remover, or a bath sponge/body wash/ scented spray.
  38. Jar gifts: take a nice jar and fill it in layers with the ingredients for something like your favorite chocolate chip cookies (only the dry ingredients, obviously). Then type up and print out the wet ingredients and directions for making the cookies and attach to the jar with a pretty ribbon. Some sites with recipes are listed below:
    1. RecipeGoldMine This has recipes for treats, snacks, and other things.
    2. Allfreecrafts This site has recipes for a lot of different things, including soups, and ideas for decorating the jar.
    3. Recipes to Go
  39. You can find nice candles that are not too expensive – just be careful about giving them to people with allergies!
  40. Small figurines that match the recipients taste can be nice without being expensive.
  41. Matching hat and glove sets can be nice as well, and can be as expensive as you’d like.
  42. Gift certificates to their favorite store can be nice as well – and can be for many different denominations, depending on your budget.
  43. Gift certificates to restaurants are also good, particularly for people on a fixed budget.
  44. A miniature Christmas tree decorated with mini-ornaments
  45. A blooming plant of some sort for the gardener
  46. For new parents: a bib a day for their baby (one for each day of the week). You could go with a theme (humor, I Love…, a color, etc.)
  47. Also for new parents: a gift basket with a number of indispensable items like a thermometer, nail clippers, comb, baby wash clothes, Vaseline, and the like.
  48. Another one for new parents: lots and lots of wipes.
  49. Another one for new parents: a copy of your favorite childhood book.
  50. To give parents who don’t need anything else to dust: write a letter thanking them and describe the great memories you have of childhood.
  51. Make your spouse’s favorite dinner and dessert for a romantic evening.
  52. Call relatives you haven’t seen in a while – the gift of time is a wonderful thing.
  53. Write to older relatives. Shoot, write to younger relatives…most people enjoy getting letters or cards in the mail.
  54. If you don’t see your family often, have professional pictures taken, then frame some as gifts. You can often get package deals that are not too expensive for the pictures.
  55. Crochet bookmarks for readers.
  56. Cross stitch bookmarks for readers – you can match the design to their hobby or interest.
  57. Find out if they have an “Amazon” list; if they do, find an item from their list that is in your budget.
  58. Give coupons for a service that you can perform for them: offer to wash their car, cut their grass, cook dinner, clean their house, babysit, etc.
  59. Bake cookies and stop by for a visit, if you haven’t seen them in a while.
  60. Offer to pet sit.
  61. Make up a recipe book of your family’s favorite recipes, then print it and put it in binders for family members.
  62. Make a gift basket with a few nice pieces of fruit and some different kinds of cheese.
  63. Make a basket for someone who likes to cook with different utensils that you know they need or want.
  64. Gather 12-13 pictures together and have a family calendar made. Many 0nline sites can take digital photographs you upload; one I’ve worked with can even do multiple pictures for each month. They aren’t too expensive and if you look, some are less expensive than others.
  65. Put favorite pictures on mugs, t-shirts, playing cards (I think), note cards, and the like. There are a number of sites that do this sort of thing.
  66. If youhave MS Powerpoint, create a slide show using special pictures. You can do so much with it: add music, use special effects, etc.
  67. Buy Christmas ornaments in January, when they are on sale.
  68. Look at other items on sale in January; see if you can find things that are appropriate for those on your list.
  69. Several books from the best seller’s list
  70. A CD that you found that you know they’d love
  71. Books on CD or tape
  72. Gift certificates to a movie theater
  73. A donation to a charity in the recipient’s name
  74. Make candles! Add a candle holder.
  75. iTunes gift card might be good for a teen.
  76. A set of colored pencils and a sketch pad for a budding artist
  77. A journal or blank book with a nice pen for someone who likes to write
  78. For an soon-to-arrive baby: a small basket with pacifiers, teethers, stroller toys, washcloths, or other small items
  79. If you cross stitch, buy a set of plain place mats and cross stitch a small decorative element on each. You could even make matching napkin rings.
  80. Make a decorated picture frame. Buy a simple wooden frame. At a craft store, you should be able to find some elements that represent the recipient’s interests or hobbies that you can glue to the frame.
  81. A basket with muffin/biscuit mix with jams/jellies
  82. A magazine subscription; there are some out there that aren’t terribly expensive.
  83. For a new mother: babysit so she can sleep, get her hair cut, run an errand, etc.
  84. Pet sit for a friend who travels at the holiday.
  85. Fill a nice container with their favorite treat, homemade or otherwise.
  86. If you have a special talent like backrubs, cooking, or working on cars, offer your services.
  87. Try a fruit-of-the-month club for a three-month period.
  88. A small package of gourmet chocolate
  89. If there is an inexpensive wine that you’ve found that you like, share it with a friend.
  90. For kids, make an arts and crafts box. Get a box or basket of some sort and put stickers, paper, crayons, colored pencils, and the like in it. You could add coloring books or sketch pads as well.
  91. If your favorite gardener likes antiques, try giving them an “heirloom” plant. There are heirloom roses and tomatoes, among others. Try your local garden center.
  92. If the recipient likes unusual plants, try a venus flytrap or a tropical-type plant.
  93. A get-well-soon basket: a can or two of their favorite soup, a large mug to eat it out of, and some tea/honey. If you know they are coughing, add cough drops or hard candy!
  94. If they have a pet, make homemade dog treats or cat treats.
  95. Listen to what your recipient really wants or needs; it could be as simple as a pair of nice gloves for driving to work on cold days or a mug with his favorite sports team’s name on it.
  96. Crochet a scarf (or knit it!) in their favorite team’s colors.
  97. Make a set of handmade notecards with matching envelopes and add a book of stamps for someone who loves to write notes to people. There are any number of ways to go about this; you can now print out your own notecards using specialized stationery from an office supply store; simply pick out a nice font and personalize it. You can also get nice rub-ons or stickers that are acid-free and simply add those to the paper.
  98. Put together a small “kit” of the supplies to finish a small project in a craft that you excel at and give it to someone who is interested in learning with the promise to show them how.
  99. Write a letter to a friend to tell them how much they have meant to you over the years and print it on really nice paper.
  100. Just listen when a friend or relative needs to talk – don’t offer solutions or to fix things unless you know that is what they need. Sometimes people just love the gift of listening.
  101. Does your recipient participate in a particular sport? They may need some supplies: tees/golfballs, gloves for weightlifting, a new exercise video, good socks to wear with hiking boots or inline skates, and so forth.


Filed under Gifts, Lists