Top finds from our writers and editors for home, garden, life and travel. Check out our Kraft paper projects, a new cookie cookbook, holiday light displays and more.

Home + Garden

Holiday gift wrap
Kraft paper tassel
| Credit: David Land

1. TASSEL TOPPERS Cut 1/2-inch-wide strips of plain Kraft paper into twelve 10-inch lengths. Lay strips in a starburst pattern (like an asterisk with a lot more arms); attach each strip to the one on top of it at the center using a glue stick. Let dry. Loosely bend the strips in half to make a bundle. Glue a strip of gold-leaf Kraft paper (see smart code, above) around the bundle, 1 inch from the top. For a hanger, slip a slim gold ribbon through the opening, below where the strips are folded over. (Instead of gold-leaf Kraft paper, you can use contrasting colored paper for the tassel's "waistband.")

Ace General Store, Excelsior, Minnesota
Ace General Store
| Credit: Mariah Brink

2. ACE IN THE HOLE Housed in a historic carriage home in Excelsior, Minnesota, Ace General Store is a one-stop shop for men's gifts. Score apothecary goods like cologne and beard oil, mini Edison lanterns, American-made apparel, and plant-dyed face masks from this spot that also serves as a community hangout, with bonfires and concerts.

Ornaments from Laura Brown
Geometric ornaments
| Credit: Courtesy of Laura Brown

3. SHAPE SHIFTER Ceramicist Laura Brown works with raw clays made in Michigan to craft hand-thrown pottery pieces like cups and bowls. For the holidays, snag these geometric ornaments—a few for gifts, a few for yourself. Hang individual ornaments on a tree, string a few together as a mantel or mirror garland, or group a larger display as wall decor. From $12 each.


Veterans Community Project, Kansas City
Veterans Community Project
| Credit: Courtesy of Veterans Community Project

4.  Good Neighbors: LAUNCH PADS Since 2015, Veterans Community Project in Kansas City, Missouri, has supported more than 4,000 veterans. The nonprofit offers emergency assistance and other services at its Veterans Outreach Center, plus transitional housing for homeless vets, many suffering from PTSD. The 240-square-foot homes include bed, bath, kitchen and Wi-Fi—plus stability, security, privacy and a sense of pride. A second village will open next summer outside Denver; the organization is aiming for five more by 2022. "With each expansion," says Jason Kander, president of national expansion, "a new group of American veterans is mobilized to once again contribute to the community it calls home."

As part of our Good Neighbors program, highlighting unique Midwest nonprofits and individuals making our communities stronger, Midwest Living has donated $500 to the Veterans Community Project.

Instagram StoriesFromSixFeet
| Credit: Angela Treimer

5. @STORIESFROMSIXFEET During the pandemic, travel photographer Angela Treimer has turned her lens on Chicagoans—often at home, always at a distance.Her Instagram captures the city's vibrancy and vitality, even during tough times. "I have no intention of stopping," Treimer says. "If anything, I'm more engaged and committed now in telling people's stories and giving [them] a voice."

6. CUTE OVERLOAD Need a comfort TV fix? Saved by the Barn follows the Barn Sanctuary, a rescue farm in Chelsea, Michigan. Stream episodes on Animal Planet or learn more at "Watching sheep and goats be nursed back to health is so heartwarming. I'm obsessed." — From Kelsey Ogletree, MWL Writer


Chicago Botanic Garden Lightscape
| Credit: Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

7. LIGHT BRIGHT Not even 2020 can take the shine off holiday lights. Drive-through displays are, by nature, pandemic-friendly, and at press time, many walk-through events across the Midwest are a go (with social distancing rules). Anxious? Just bundle up and step out your door to glimpse what the neighborhood Clark Griswolds have pulled off this year—with a travel mug of spiked cocoa in hand, naturally.

Last year, the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe debuted Lightscape, a coproduction with Sony Music that featured installations like a choir of singing trees and the stunning Cathedral of Light (pictured above). The event returns November 13–January 3. Plan to buy tickets in advance.

Black is Beautiful stout
Black is Beautiful stout
| Credit: Courtesy of Weathered Souls Brewing Company

8. CHEERS TO THAT Rather than keep the recipe for his Black Is Beautiful stout a secret, Marcus Baskerville of Weathered Souls Brewing Company in Texas shared it—with a caveat. Proceeds must go to a local social-justice cause. Breweries around the world have signed on, including more than 160 in the Midwest. "I'm choosing to make a difference through beer," says Baskerville. You can, too: Visit to find a participating brewery near you.

Nebraska Instagram Feed
@InTheBluffs Instagram
| Credit: Jeremy Clodfelter

9. @INTHEBLUFFS "I've been following Jeremy Clodfelter on Instagram for years. He's an antiques dealer and photographer based in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. His photos are rustic and beautiful: vintage finds, haunting abandoned buildings and the starkly beautiful rural landscape in all seasons." — From Karyn Spencer, MWL Writer


Gold-leaf holiday projects
Masa Madre
| Credit: David Land

10. LOAFING AROUND What? Your town doesn't have a Jewish- Mexican bakery? No worries. Chicago's Masa Madre has you covered. Originally from Mexico City, co-owners Tamar Fasja Unikel (left) and Elena Vázquez Felgueres fold Latin flavors into Jewish staples. They ship their made-to-order babkas (twisted, brioche-like loaves) nationwide. Try buttery Cinnamon Churro, chocolate-glazed Café de Olla or sticky Pistachio Cardamom with coffee for breakfast on the morning after the first (or third, fifth or eighth) night of Hanukkah. From $20.

Grade A Gardens garlic
Garlic braid
| Credit: Brie Passano

11. BRAIDED BUNCH Jordan and Whitney Clasen of Grade A Gardens in metro Des Moines grow a rainbow of vegetables, but at heart, they're garlic pros. Jordan's braids regularly win big at the state fair—and they'll look (and taste) stunning in your kitchen. $50.

100 Cookies
| Credit: Brie Passano

12. A BANG-UP COOKBOOK Minnesotan Sarah Kieffer of The Vanilla Bean Blog captured attention when The New York Times published her method for chocolate chip cookies, which calls for opening the oven and banging the pan to ripple the tops. You'll find that game-changer—and 99 more—in her new book, 100 Cookies (Chronicle, $28). It has an elegantly simple layout and recipes that run the flavor gamut, like novel Raspberry Rye Cookies and gooey Rocky Road Brownies.

Cake lifter
Cake lifter
| Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

NEED A LIFT? "This is a cake lifter. I use mine daily—but rarely to lift cakes, mind you. Turns out, it's the perfect tool for shuttling piles of chopped veggies from butcher block to stove." Find one on Amazon. From $10. — From Hannah Agran, Executive Editor