Friday, December 30, 2011

I MUST Host a Party Next Year!

Your Holiday Spirit Comes From Decorating the House

You are a very visual and creative person. You have a clear idea in your mind of what the holidays should look like.

You enjoy using this time of year to express your artistry and impress your friends and family a bit.

You are a comforting influence on those around you. You are the perfect person to host a holiday gathering.

You are grateful for everything you have. More than grateful, you're downright delighted.

This is all very true. I'm now motivated to throw a party next year -- maybe two! I want to do a cookie exchange party as well as a holiday fun and games party.

What Part of Christmas Am I? (Results are so true!)

You Are Sending Christmas Cards

You are a nostalgic and caring person during the holidays.

It's important for you to feel connected to other people this time of the year.

You do your best to stay in touch with everyone who is important to you. Even a little note shows you care.

Nothing delights you more than getting a card from someone you haven't heard from in a while. That's the true spirit of Christmas for you.

So True!

You Are Sending Christmas Cards

You are a nostalgic and caring person during the holidays.

It's important for you to feel connected to other people this time of the year.

You do your best to stay in touch with everyone who is important to you. Even a little note shows you care.

Nothing delights you more than getting a card from someone you haven't heard from in a while. That's the true spirit of Christmas for you.

I'm Gold Lights, but Multi-colored would be a good fit too!

You Are Gold Lights

Your holidays are a time of abundance and riches.

Even if you don't have a lot during the rest of the year, this is the time that you splurge a little.

Your holidays traditions tend to be a bit old fashioned and dignified.

You like old holiday movies, properly wrapped presents, and family recipes passed down over the years.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Brenda Christmas Slide Show

Photobucket allows you to create slideshows of your holiday activities! Here is mine for the month of December!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Starburst Photos - Before You Pack Up Your Holiday Lights

Photos taken with a Kodak Easyshare digital camera

Years ago, when I had a Canon EOS film camera with changeable lenses and filters, I learned a trick for getting the starburst effect on lights without purchasing an expensive filter. I used to use that trick all the time, but over the years, I got new cameras, moved on to digital, and forgot about the wonderful things filters can do...until I was talking with the designer of a book cover for a book I recently edited. I told him how much I loved his artwork, especially the nightscape with the starburst street lights. When he said that people have gotten away from filters, the light bulb went on in my head. 

I remembered that old trick, and I wondered whether it would work with a digital camera. You can see that it did in the above photos. Here's the trick:

Stretch a section of sheer hose or a sheer scarf across the lens! It's as simple as that! You'll get a slightly foggy effect with the lights transformed into stars. The closer the shot, the better. I tried photographing my tall Christmas trees full-length, and while the lights were bigger, the star effect didn't quite happen.

Try this with your camera and amaze your family and friends with photos of your holiday lights. They'll wonder how you did that! But it can be our little secret. ;-) 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gift Tags, and Telling on Myself

It's less than a day until Christmas, and for the second year in a row, I finished wrapping gifts early! I will NOT be up late Christmas Eve and early into Christmas morning wrapping gifts and crying from exhaustion! (Even with gift bags, it seems to take forever to get the job done.) I have to tell on myself. Do you know what I did this week? I lost a gift. It was a good one too! A CD by an artist my daughter enjoys. Inexplicably, it wasn't in the gift cabinet (a black office storage cabinet) with the other gifts I collected throughout the year. It arrived in the mail just two weeks ago and should have been front and center. I tore the cabinet apart looking for that gift. Then I started searching my office, sure I had set it down and piled papers or books on top of it. No luck. I was close to making myself sick over that CD. I wrapped all the other gifts, wondering if I accidentally threw that gift out with the trash one day!

Then I noticed a small gift bag under the tree. Hmmm. Was that a gift for my daughter or for myself? (Single moms sometimes wrap presents for themselves just to make Christmas morning more fun ... ) I knew I had put something in that bag, but I didn't remember what it was. A candle? So I looked inside, and I'm sure you know what I found. I had wrapped that CD a WEEK AGO! lol  Christmas Brain!  So anyway, all the gifts are waiting beside the fireplace. Whew!

I wanted to share some gift tag ideas with you that are handy if you run out or don't want to spend the money on one-use gift tags (the sticker kind are one-use only).

1. Reusable tags: As a newlywed with a limited budget, I made gift tags from card stock, and I also used the free gift tags found in holiday issues of women’s magazines. Sturdy tags can be re-used for family year after year if you remove them carefully from the torn gift wrap at the end of the gift exchange. I used the box my bank checks came in to store our tags, and it was fun to read the silly names we gave each other that first Christmas together—“To Huggy Bear from Snuggle Bunny” or “To Lady Sweetheart from Sir Dearheart” (kinda makes you want to gag, huh)—as we re-used the tags. Anyway, when kids came along, we made and re-used tags for them as well. Then I had another idea ...

2. Since I print addresses on mailing labels for sending cards and letters, I always have a supply of labels on hand. One year when the kids were little, I had the idea of using mailing labels as gift tags. I typed the to and from names on them, but then I also added a small headshot of the recipient on each tag. That way, the child who was not yet able to read the names could still play Santa on Christmas morning, passing out the gifts by looking at the face on the tag! That was lots of fun!

3. Taking that idea one step further, you can make prints of family photos and fashion them into gift tags.

4. Recycle old Christmas cards by cutting them into small tags. (Don't use the part that has been written on...) you can add the recipient's name on the back of the tag and have the artwork-side face up on the gift.

4. Free printable gift tags. There are free designs online that you can print off on card stock or copy paper! I found these elegant ones at Ash and Anchor. You can find others by putting "free gift tags" in your search engine.

It’s time for me to clock out; when my daughter and son get back from dinner with their dad, we are going out for dessert with friends! I found out today that my son has decided to come and bring a friend to have Christmas dinner with us tomorrow, so I have some work to do! There’s nothing like last-minute changes during the holidays, but believe me—I’m not complaining!

May you have a merry and very blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ever Feel Like You Can't Win for Losing?

If you've been with me since the beginning, you know this blog is as much for myself as it is for you. I want to be better prepared for Christmas! I want to eke out as much warm holiday enjoyment as possible while shedding the unwanted stress that the hustle and bustle of the season can bring! I want to revel in the lights, music, sugary confections, sappy holiday movies, and warm family and friend gatherings that this season promises. I imagine also spending time gazing solemnly at the sky to reflect on the event that revealed God's love for us, the gift of a Savior. It's the stuff Christmas cards are made of!

Achieving that has been an uphill battle with elements beyond my control. Did I say I achieved it? No, I'm sorry to report I have not. I've been thwarted yet again from achieving my goal! Here's what happened this time:

1. Leaky roof - Rain poured in one day in early fall, staining my ceiling in two places. It took the roofers till a week before Christmas to come and replace part of my roof. The big black roof-trash bin sat in front of my house all weekend. I'm still waiting for the ceiling to be painted.

2. Broken kitchen pipe - an old pipe that ran between the kitchen floor and ceiling of the basement had to be replaced after it cracked and allow water from the kitchen sink to flow through a vent in the basement ceiling and onto the carpeted floor! The 6-ft-long hole in the ceiling is still there—near the fireplace where we always decorate and celebrate Christmas. I finally gave up on expecting the repairs to be done before Christmas. A friend helped me return my furniture to its original spot so that my daughter and I could set up our fireplace trees and hang our stockings, but at less than a week till Christmas, the trees remain bare as my attention is called elsewhere. Which leads me to #3...

3. Crazy work schedule - As a freelancer, I'm never sure what I'm going to be doing, but I count on flexibility.  I can work any time of day or night—weekends too, if necessary. My next writing assignment, while lengthy, isn't due until April, so it's not the problem. Deadlines for my editing projects are closer, but by themselves would not have hampered my holiday fun, either. My third flexible job is as a virtual assistant to a voice studio; I've been asked to handle more small projects this month than expected. That has thrown my plans off a little, but when you add in a fourth job, the flexibility vanishes! This fourth job is temporary, taken to help out an old friend as much as to help pay bills. I subbed as his office manager several times last summer and fall, and now I'm in the office again—the week before Christmas (!!!)—while the new hire is away for a Christmas break! This was not the way I planned to spend the week before Christmas, and it has put a major crunch on the time meant for completing other work projects as well as holiday baking and outings. I'm working days, nights, AND weekends!

4. Sick child - My incredibly healthy daughter got sick—and stayed sick! Nothing puts a crimp in your plans faster than a sick family member. She came down with the flu more than a week ago. It knocked her for a loop and made her miss a fun Christmas program. After several days of sleeping, she perked up well enough in the mornings but still wilted early in the day and put herself to bed while other families were still watching Christmas movies and eating popcorn. She has a lingering cough and ear trouble and when given the option of going to see Christmas light displays or staying home, has opted to stay home. I feel so sorry for her—and for me!

5. No big family gathering - I miss those, but I'm not from here and not likely to experience one in this state! My family is 500 miles away, and it's shrinking each year. With our current jobs and financial situation, my daughter and I can't afford to travel to see our remaining relatives, and  no one feels able to come see us. On top of that, my son, who has missed two of the last three Christmases with us, has decided to spend this Christmas with his friends—again. So with only my daughter and myself here, there will be no big feast that dreams are made of. It will be a quiet celebration made up of a favorite breakfast, opening of gifts, watching the Disney parade on TV, and perhaps playing some games or doing crafts while Christmas music plays in the background. To my further sorrow, my former husband has decided—for the first time since 1999—to have our daughter spend part of Christmas Day at his house. Not only will I not have that longed-for big family gathering, but I will be alone for part of the day. And car-less too, as he has requested that she drive herself (in my car) to his house 40 minutes away, so I can't even drive to a friend's house! Do you hear those sad violins playing in the background???

Where's that fun Christmas I worked towards all year? Christmas is just a few days away, and if I dwell on it too much, I get emotional. I had high hopes for entertaining friends and making it a Christmas to remember.

While I can't control outside events, I can control my attitude. But, sometimes I don't feel like it. Don't we all get that way? Like a child who has been denied a treat before dinner, I pout. I don't want to shrug, let go, and focus on something else. I want to worry over what I can't have! And what I can't have this year (again) is the fairytale, twinkling Christmas sung about in so many carols. Rather than mope and wish Christmas was over (my first inclination), I will work on adjusting my attitude. I can't change my circumstances, so I need to change my thought pattern. I choose to count my Christmas blessings:
  1. Jesus loves me, even when I have a bad attitude.
  2. Lovely weather allowed my daughter and me to enjoy "A Journey Through Bethlehem" this year.
  3. We got to attend a local Christmas parade.
  4. Four Christmas parties/events welcomed my presence this month! That may be a personal record! lol (This lifts my spirits. While I tend to be introverted, I do enjoy being included in such things.)
  5. My newsletter and cards were finished and mailed on time.
  6. Cards have been coming in the mail each day. 
  7. My daughter got to sing at two events. When she doesn't have the flu, she's a wonderful spreader of glad tidings and Christmas cheer, and I enjoy watching her perform.
  8. The living room trees were put up and decorated right after Thanksgiving, so I've had them to enjoy.
  9. Since the delayed roof work prevented me from hanging outside lights, my electric bill won't be very high.
  10. I mailed my gifts on time. I feel bad when they arrive late to their destination.
  11. I got the stamps I wanted this year! (Usually by the time I visit the post office, they've run out.)
  12. I got my shopping done early. (I am a year-round shopper, stashing fabulous finds in a "gift cabinet" until needed. I also earned gift cards through Swagbucks and used those to shop online.)
  13. My name was pulled in a drawing for a book I wanted this month!
  14. I developed a recipe for double decker cherry chocolate fudge this month! I plan to enter it in a contest—that's how happy I am with it.
  15. I still have a house in which to celebrate Christmas, New Year's, and hopefully many more holidays.
  16. My daughter, when she isn't sick, is generally happy to help me with housework. Of course, she has her moments, as we all do, but on the whole she is a sweet blessing. 
  17. My best friend is a blessing too! She is like a sister to me. I never had a sister, but she's my sister from another mister!
  18. The cash gifts I've received this month equal my mortgage payment! Now that is a God thing! The last unexpected check caused tears of joy to streak down my face as I realized how they all added up. God loves me and wants me to stop worrying about the future!
  19. I have such a huge supply of Christmas wrap that I will probably never need to buy more. And gift bags are reusable. *smiles*
  20. Mom sent me a Christmas stocking with surprises inside so that I don't have to fill my own stocking this year. (There may be nothing more sad than a single parent filling her own stocking on Christmas Eve.) Mom made me promise not to feel around in it! Teehee!
I could keep going, but my mood has lifted considerably, so that won't be necessary. Now it's your turn! If you're feeling blue, try listing your blessings and see what happens. Share some of your blessings in the comments below!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Memory Tree

As a special holiday treat, my daughter and I recorded ourselves decorating our memory tree and explaining the tree and the ornaments. This is something I started last year because I suddenly had an extra tree (small), and I just hate to throw anything away. I realized I could get more use out of it, damaged as it was. So going with the memory theme, I pulled together some of my handmade ornaments and photo ornaments so that we could hang our memories on this little white tree. Watch!

Here's a link, just in case ... Brenda's Christmas Memory Tree

By the way, it's less than three weeks till Christmas! Are you ready?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don’t throw out your damaged decorations just yet!

So, have you started decorating your home for Christmas yet? I love digging into my many boxes of decorations – collected over the span of 27 years! Because I shop the after-Christmas clearance sales, I always find surprises that I don’t remember—they’re like early Christmas gifts for me and my family! Those are fun, but I cherish the old ornaments—those that have been handed down from my family, those I bought new, and those “antique” ones I bid on at an auction long ago. So many memories are held in those old ornaments—even the whimsical plastic and Styrofoam ones of the 50s and 60s!

As you unpack your ornaments and decorations, you may come across some damaged ones—broken, dented, chipped, or just loose. You may be tempted to toss them in the garbage. Don't be so hasty! Damaged decorations still may have life in them. Look at them with a creative eye. Can pieces be glued back together? Can they be touched up with permanent markers or even nail polish? That cheap nail polish at the dollar store isn’t just for nails, you know! The metallic shades are great for covering tiny blemishes on ornaments. Maybe a damaged decoration can be taken apart and re-purposed. Could parts of a damaged decoration or ornament be used in handmade Christmas cards or to decorate your gifts to make them look extra-special under the tree? Can pieces be attached to a Christmas wreath?

Hmmm, that reminds me … I have an old, brown plastic candle ring that was in a box lot that I got 27 years ago. I’ve held onto it because it’s old and isn’t taking up too much space in my box of retro stuff. Every year I glance at it and wonder what the manufacturer was thinking, making a brown Christmas candle ring! I think I’ll spray paint it silver and put a red candle in the center—or a glass globe filled with candy. I already have those things, so it won’t cost me anything to create a new end table centerpiece!

If the effort just seems too great, maybe you could give the project to someone artistic in your family. If that person simply doesn't exist, then please donate your old decorations to the local thrift store where I might find them. *grin* Crafty people will be on the lookout for them! Better there than in the landfill!  

Happy Creative Christmas!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ... in the stores and Up North!

Some of my Canadian friends are currently enjoying snow up to their tushies! Well, enjoying may be a bit too strong of a word choice ... and tushies is an exaggeration ... but you know what I mean. Winter wonderlands are magically appearing! Christmas must be just around the corner! It's definitely arrived (along with Santa) in the mall!

If you are going to send Christmas cards, NOW is the time to print out your labels, or hand-label your envelopes—if you are one of those personal-touch people. (I'm not. I'm a quick and easy and typed-is-easy-to-read kinda gal.) Finish (or start) your fun and informative, one-page Christmas newsletter. Get your cards ready to mail out on November 30! That's right, set that bar high and let everyone turn green with envy at how organized you are! Plus, if your cards are ready to go that early in the season, you are guaranteed to have your pick of the holiday stamps available at the post office!

NOW is also the time to start gathering the special ingredients for your holiday goodies. Look over your recipes (did you remember to choose a few new ones to try this year?) and make a list of what you'll need. Do you remember the sick feeling you got last year when you ran to the store a few days before Christmas for those peanut butter chips you needed for your famous double decker fudge, and you discovered that the entire inventory had been wiped out already? (Or was that just me?) Don't let that happen to you again. Or, if you are not at home in the kitchen, then now is still a good time to stock the freezer with store-bought holiday goodies. You want to get them while they are available—not stand in front of an empty store freezer with a tear in your despairing eye later in December!

Have you been stocking your Christmas closet/cabinet/hiding place with gifts throughout the year? Now is a good time to take stock of what you have and what you still want to make or buy for gifts. Now is also a good time to wrap the gifts you have. No more Christmas Eve all-nighters, wrestling with rolls of wrapping paper and Scotch tape till that inevitable moment when you lose it and begin carelessly cramming gifts into gift bags— whether they fit or not and even if you ran out of tissue paper to tuck in there! That activity does not a good Christmas Day, or Christmas photos, make!

Finally, consider the possibilities of charitable giving. Gift Tag Trees are going up throughout our communities. My church already put up the missionary Christmas tree. My daughter has already claimed an envelope from the tree and returned it! A local restaurant has a sign out letting us know the date for their annual toy drive. Other stores have Christmas trees featuring tags that list a child's age and the toys on that child's wish list. Many organizations collect donations for children, for the elderly, and for other needy people in general.

When money is tight, you can give of your time instead. Volunteers are needed to sort, package, and deliver Christmas collections. Go caroling in a nursing home. The Salvation Army needs bell ringers! Use your talents to bless others this holiday season. There are so many possibilities. Christmas is the season of giving.

Leave me a comment and tell me what you have finished, what you have left to do, or what you love most about Christmas! I would love to hear from you!

Friday, October 28, 2011

It's the end of October, and you know what THAT means ...

Court Jester and his Renaissance Sister
There will be Halloween clearance sales, of course! What did you think I was going to say—that Christmas is just around the corner? Pshaw, you already know that!

Anyway, if you have any children on your gift list who love to play make-believe, you can find some fun items for a costume/dress-up kit! When I was a child, I would have loved to have sparkly tutus and tiaras, gloves, and wands, any princess-y thing there was to be had! Hats and capes and other fun things will spark children's imagination—and maybe they'll put on a skit for you!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

It's October 1! And in case you haven't checked, there are just 84 days till Christmas!

Ready or not, here it comes–the holiday season is fast approaching! Thanksgiving will arrive in 53 days, and many of us start celebrating the Christmas season the next day! (Some of us start even earlier; I know of a few people who start putting up their Christmas trees and other home decorations two or three weeks before Thanksgiving!)

Even though December 25 is still 84 days away (as of Oct. 1), you don't really have 84 days to prepare. To have time to relax and enjoy the season of joy, you should have your plans and preparations wrapped up (pun intended – tee hee) earlier than that. The sooner the better!

Since money is tighter than usual this year, I've been earning gift money by using I plan to finish shopping with my "free" money by Dec. 1. I'm so excited that I can do that! (That money also paid for my daughter's graduation gifts and birthday gifts this year.) My daughter and I discovered some new recipes for yummy treats that we're going to enjoy and give as gifts. Our Christmas cards are sitting in the craft closet where we'll easily find them when it comes time to send them out. Things are progressing pretty well for us.

How about you? Tell me what you've planned and/or accomplished so far this year that will make this the best Christmas ever! (To my friends and family with new bundles of joy: having a baby or grandbaby counts as an accomplishment! Babies always make the holidays extra special!)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Christmas Countdown!

Hey, y’all! (Even though I’m from the Midwest, I sometimes say “y’all” for fun because I’ve lived in the South for more than half my life.)  As of today, September 6, it is 109 days till Christmas, and 84 days till December 1! I placed a handy-dandy countdown generator at the top of my page so that you can keep track. It snows in the generator more than it snows down South, so I may spend a lot of time here, just staring at the snow. *giggles*

The purpose of “Christmas All Year Long” is to encourage you to prepare in advance for the biggest and busiest holiday season of the year so that when December arrives, your busy work will be done, and you can enjoy the celebration and spend time relaxing or playing or whatever you want to do with your family and friends.  No more frantic shopping trips! No more late night baking, wrapping, decorating, and crying! No more regrets and sighs of “maybe next year ...”  Now is the time! This is the year! So what are you waiting for? Pull out your Christmas to-do list (or make one) and choose something to work on this week!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How Do You Take Advantage of the Back-to-School Month, Christmas-wise?

High school and college students return to school this month – or at least prepare to do so. Bargains are easy to find as stores create sales to lure shoppers inside. If you have a plan, you can shop without going overboard. You should have a list of people with whom you will exchange gifts as well as your ideas for what those gifts should be. This is one way to take advantage of back-to-school month. With all the penny specials at office supply stores, you can stock up on some interesting stocking stuffers - what kid doesn't love pencils, markers, or fun erasers? If there are any artists in your family, you can create the same kind of activity kit that my mom used to make for nieces and nephews. Items like crayons, colored pencils, markers, stencils, paper, scissors, glitter glue, and construction paper can make a young artist's eyes light up on Christmas morning. Much of it is on sale now!

So, shopping the sales is one way to take advantage of August in preparation for the winter holiday season. What is the other way? It's to take advantage of your newly-free time – if you have kids and are a SAHM or a parent with a part-time job. (This is possible only if your kids go off to school. Homeschooling families won't benefit from this idea, as it is rare to get a break from the kids.) Anyway, I know some moms who heaved a big sigh of relief as the kids left for school and then wondered what they would do with their free time – beyond the usual cooking, cleaning, and errand-running, of course. Before you fall into a routine, pull out your Christmas plans and get organized! Take stock of your gift closet/cabinet/hiding place. What do you have? What do you need?

Me and My Mom having
some Christmas Fun
Kids or not, use the remainder of the month to think through your holiday plans. Where are you going to spend Christmas? Will you host a party? Are you sending Christmas greetings? Are you making a newsletter?

Remember, your goal is to be "ready" for Christmas before December arrives. That way, you can spend the season doing what you love with the people you love instead of scurrying around in a panic trying to pull it all together only to collapse in a heap on the couch at the end of each day. No more New Year's Day regrets about what didn't get done. No more sighs of "oh well, maybe next year ..."  This is the year to be prepared!

Friday, August 5, 2011

August Means Back-to-School Bargains ... and Christmas shopping!

In my state, and maybe yours, it’s a tax-free weekend for school-related merchandise. You can find a list of items online that are included and excluded from this special money-saving holiday. Such items include your usual pencils, paper, crayons, and other educational materials and also things such as clothing, clothing accessories, shoes, school supplies, computers, printers, blankets, bedspreads and linens, bath cloths, bath towels, bath rugs and mats, shower curtains, pillows and pillow cases are included (for college-bound students). See any possible Christmas gifts in that list?

Exclusions include jewelry, cosmetics, eyewear, wallets, watches, 
furniture, items for use in a business, and items placed on layaway, so 
you're out of luck if visions of these items danced tax-free in your head. However, sometimes stores vying for your dollars will offer similar discounts on non-education-related items in 
order to make sales, so you may be in luck after all!

Anyway, if you haven't already stocked your gift closet with items for December giving, you might consider shopping this weekend. Not only will you save sales tax (if you shop in a state 
that participates), but as the third largest shopping weekend of the year, you may discover 
stores competing for sales with some additional sales! (The other two big-deal shopping times are the weekend after Thanksgiving and the time before Christmas.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Christmas (Newsletter) in July

Christmas in July? You bet!

Here in the Sunny South, I enjoyed a day in July (the15th, to be exact) when the temperature OUTSIDE never made it out of the 60s! What a delightfully chilly departure from those high 90s where just taking a breath was enough to make one break into a sweat! The next day started out chilly as well before the mercury inched its way up to 79. It was like a memory of early spring and an advance taste of late fall, all rolled into one day! As I shivered and slid into a jacket, I thought, “It’s a perfect Christmas in July day!”

Now we’re back to the normal sweltering days of summer, but at least we can escape indoors and set our minds on Christmas! Turn on the A/C, sip something cold and refreshing, and dig out a Christmas CD for the appropriate holiday mood. :) (Right now I’m listening to Santa Baby. It always makes me grin. Marilyn Monroe didn’t sing it, but it would have fit  her sultry style.)

A few weeks ago, a blog friend announced that she had begun working on her Christmas newsletter. Way to go, Linda! This is where I generally fall short. Like most who write them, I wait until the end of the year to put my newsletter together, and then I have trouble recalling the highlights of the year. Plus, I get busy and distracted, and before I know it, my cards are going out late because it took me a while to get my newsletter “wrapped up.”

Take a break from the heat and think about your own newsletter. What have been the highlights and low points of the first half of the year? Devote one to three sentences to each idea. If you are one of those who like themes, brainstorm for something fresh for this year. Store your notes for later. When you are ready to finish your letter and make copies, you'll be glad that you got half the job done early this time.

TIP #1: Restrain from typing joyously in all caps and using multiple exclamation points, especially when bragging about the talented so-and-so’s who are your children. A simple “So-and-so continues to earn high marks in school” gets the same message across as “WE ARE SO PROUD OF OUR LITTLE ANGEL’S STRAIGHT A’s AND ALL THE TALENT THAT DRIPS FROM EACH FINGER AND TOE!!!! WE’RE SO VERY BLESSED!!!! GOD OBVIOUSLY LOVES US MORE THAN YOU AND YOUR LITTLE DISASTERS!!!!” without taking up as much space or being quite so obnoxious.

TIP #2: Don’t shy away from being real. We all have our struggles. Honesty goes a long way in strengthening bonds. Briefly share a disappointment, knowing that your recipients will likely be able to relate.

TIP #3: Include a few photos. Make sure that YOU are in at least one photo. You say you feel self-conscious about how you have aged? Well, make it a small picture! Anything is better than photos of just the kids or the pets. We can assume that the recipients of your newsletter are people who love you and see your inner beauty shining through. You may not see it, but we do. I promise!

ALTERNATIVE IDEA:  You say you aren’t a writer? Holiday newsletters make you shudder? Okay, fine. Don’t start a newsletter. But you aren’t off the hook this month. Instead, you can focus on a photo to include in your Christmas cards, or maybe a photo that you will use AS a Christmas card! Consider dressing up in Christmas hats or sweatshirts or just Christmas colors. Consider creating a backdrop by hanging a solid piece of fabric up or digging out the garland and quickly decorating something with it. If you have a Christmas tablecloth, it might make an interesting backdrop. It won’t take a lot of time to make the effort. Honest! Get a friend or a timer to snap a family shot for you so that you will be in the picture. Put on a Christmas CD. You'll be doing more than creating a holiday photo; you’ll be making a memory. :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Boredom a Problem?

Bored Kids with Nothing to Do

School has only been out a short time, but I know kids have already started complaining that they are bored – some were moaning on their first day at home! Because I’m connected to a number of teenagers (that I know in real life) on Facebook, I’ve seen their pitiful wails. “I’m BOREDDDDDD!!!!! Somebody text me!!!!!!!!”

This month’s tip involves giving Christmas projects to those poor kids who have nothing to do. (You say you have no kids at home? Is it too hot for you to enjoy the outdoors? Then these projects are for you!)

Summer is a great time to decorate your own Christmas wrapping paper with white butcher paper and paint. You can work with stencils or sponge shapes or even go freestyle. One year my kids took star-shaped sponges and dabbed red, green, and gold paint on sheets of white butcher paper. I used the paper to wrap gifts and finished the packages off with red and green bows. That was a festive and fun change from the normal store-bought wrap, and the kids enjoyed both the activity AND getting to brag about it at Christmastime!

Christmas Cards Made by Kids
Another summertime art project is to create original artwork on card stock. If you have a child who is a budding artist, whether it’s with paints, colored pencils, or ink, you might set him or her loose with an assignment for a certain number of holiday-appropriate cards. Of course, if you love crafting cards, you will love this project yourself!

Working with photos to create cards, gift tags, photo ornaments, or photo calendars for 2012 is another creative option for those hot days when the A/C inside beckons, if you didn’t tackle that a few months ago or if you have children who love working with digital photos on the computer.

Kids who enjoy crafts may enjoy making Christmas tree ornaments. By making them during the summer, you can plan for lots of them - enough to share with others early in December so that they can enjoy hand-crafted decorations too! In fact, you could take the time to think about having a theme tree this year! I have two trees that are a mishmash of ornaments collected over the years from vacations, school projects, received as gifts, and so forth. But I love the themed trees I see in Christmas festivals and in magazines. I now have a snowflake and snowman theme tree. Many of the snowmen on the tree were made from kits bought from the Oriental Trading Company. I love that place – their crafts are so affordable! Right now they have some cute Christmas ornament crafts selling at half price. You should check it out!

This is a great time to make progress toward your holiday goals. Chances are good that it’s hot and humid outside, so stay where you can enjoy some air-conditioning, choose a project, and get creative!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Christmas Cards All Year 'Round -- you've gotta see that!

I just found a blog about making Christmas cards -- the “all year 'round” theme drew me in. :-) Christmas Cards All Year 'Round has some really gorgeous handmade cards! The design team puts up monthly challenges, and guest designers are often featured. Anyone who loves to make cards will adore this blog! (The red name is the link -- click on it, and you'll be there!)

(If I could make cards like that, I would hate to part with them and would likely decorate my office with them instead...)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tip for Gifts When Times Are Tight

I have a couple of friends who have raved about Swagbucks for months. They talked about trading swagbucks for giftcards and using their swagbucks to get birthday and Christmas gifts for their families. I didn't pay much attention.

Then times got tight for me. I gave in and joined a week ago. You might want to think about it too. It's primarily for people living in the USA, I think, but I understand that Canadians have swagbuck opportunities as well.

Search & Win is a GPT (get-paid-to) site. By joining, you have the chance to earn rewards online. Many websites ask you to fill out surveys and sign-up for spam, and you can do that on SwagBucks too, but you can totally avoid that and still earn swagbucks! How, you ask? You can use the SwagBucks Search Engine as you normally would in Google or Yahoo. A popup announces a win. Winning from searching happens randomly. The trick is to search regularly every hour or so. You can win as much as 5 to 50 SBs (swagbucks) per random win! You can also earn swagbucks by answering a daily poll, watching commercial videos, and more. Then there are secret codes that are hidden now and then for you to find. When you join, the website keeps an ongoing tally of your bucks in the upper righthand corner. It's very nice to see that number go up. They have a blog and tip pages as well. Joining the SwagBucks page on Facebook can help you figure some of this stuff out. 

Each swagbuck is worth about 2 cents. In the span of a week, I've earned almost enough for a $5 Amazon e-giftcard. Some people are a lot more active on SwagBucks than I am. Still, every little bit helps in the current economy. Suppose I do the minimal amount each week. There are 52 weeks in a year. That means I could end up with an extra $260 to spend online each year, and if I really want to dive into Swagbucks, I can earn more! Watch out, though, as going after swagbucks can be addicting!

You can also earn swagbucks from referrals, so if you want to help me out as you check it out, 

Do you already Swag? Post and share your tips or your favorite gift!

Monday, May 9, 2011

May: Mother's Day Christmas Ideas

May is for Mother’s Day
May has two big holidays: Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. I don’t think Memorial Day will offer much in the way of gift ideas, so let’s focus on Mother’s Day. Do you have a mom? Are there moms in your family or in your close circle of friends? Do you know any moms-to-be? Gift items for the Mother’s Day holiday are going to be on clearance this month. You may be able to snap up some Christmas gifts among the candles, bath supplies, t-shirts, candy, and books that will be on sale. You may even find some mommy gardening supplies!

Do you have a gift cabinet or closet or storage space of some sort where you can stash gifts bought year round? If not, now is as good a time as any to create a space or buy a container. An opaque plastic tub with lid might be good if you don't have an allotted space in your home. Decide where you would like to stash your gift supply before buying the container. If you have snooping kids, you'll have to be sneaky. You might get the under-the-bed box. If you get a larger box, consider faking kids out with a top layer of boring things like sweatpants, an old folded sheet, or newspapers. Then if they find the box while snooping in your closet, they will think it’s nothing and move on. Label it “Tax Stuff” to ensure that everyone avoids it! 

A tip I received last year is to buy one gift card each month. By December, you’ll have a nice stash that you can give as gifts without the anxiety of spending all that money at once! OR, you might use the gift cards yourself for Christmas shopping. This will work if you prefer to do your Christmas shopping closer to the holiday instead of early in the year. Turning your cash into gift cards each month is almost like having a personal Christmas savings account! When you're ready to shop, you’ll know how much you’ve got on each card and be able to create a budget for gifts.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Photo Ornament Ideas

Hi there! Have you gotten started organizing your photos yet?

Photo ornaments can be such fun gifts to receive, not to mention make! If you have a Hobby Lobby or other craft store in your area that posts coupons, now would be a good time to start collecting the supplies to make your photo ornament crafts. If you wait until the holiday season, you're less likely to find a coupon or to be able to use what you find -- not to mention finding the time to make the craft when the whole world is doing the holiday hustle-bustle! It just makes sense to work in advance.

I found the instructions for making a shaker ornament (with fake snow inside) here . The example uses a graphic of a snowman, but I think this would be awesome with family photos in place!

I love snow and snowmen and have a whole tree's worth of snow-themed ornaments. This pattern for a snowman photo ornament is something your children could make. If you're anything like me, you'll want to make some too. :)

This Christmas photo ball ornament involves cutting a photo into strips, which seems so wrong, but makes an awesome, lightweight ornament!

Excuse me while I go work some digital photo magic on my laptop. I've got some photos saved there that I want to use in my Christmas project!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April Album Antics

Happy Spring Fever, everyone!

Oh my, the pollen has left a fine, yellow-green coating on everything, including my dear daughter's allergic nasal passages. We want to be outside enjoying the sunshine, but perhaps a better idea is to stay indoors and work on Christmas ideas. wink

This month, the burning question is this: where are those holiday pictures that you or your relatives took during your December festivities? If you don't have a collection of photographs placed in an album, scrapbook, or otherwise saved (online in a slideshow? Saved to a CD?), this is the month to tackle the task! 

Years ago a friend of mine lost five years' worth of digital family photos when her computer crashed. She had never gotten around to printing or saving them. The pictures are gone for good.  It's so easy to put off printing or otherwise saving your photos once you've uploaded them to your computer, but your computer isn't a good storage device for precious memories! You need a backup plan! Currently, I upload my photos both to a laptop and to a desktop computer. I then create albums online. I try but don't always succeed in printing my favorite photos several times a year. I think doing this monthly is ideal, but that's not something I've been able to do. I need to follow my own advice!

Having my mom here at Christmastime helps me be more diligent with my photos. When she spends Christmas with us, I always upload and edit my photos and make her a special photo album to take home. If I ever lost my photos to a flood, fire, or crash, I know I could call my mom and get those albums and make copies of those photos! Online I use Photobucket to upload photos and create slideshows. I also make albums in the photo section of when I use them to order prints. They save the albums as well. I'm sure there are many other online options; these are just the two I have the most experience with.

So tell us where your Christmas 2010 photos are right now! Still on a camera? On your hard drive? Sitting in an email sent by a friend or family member who took the photos? Or have you already taken steps to protect them or place them in albums?

Bonus April Photo Tip: Use those photos in fun Christmas crafts! Choose photos to use in photo ornaments or other Christmas craft projects. (I have some ornaments found in a consignment store that need photos added, and I have a banner with spaces for Christmas photos as well. You might make gift tags featuring photos of the recipients' faces -- then little children can help pass out the gifts by connecting the face on the tag to the face of the person in the room! 

Monday, March 21, 2011

March Mayhem

Jaw dropped from shock.
Don't let this be you!
Dear Readers,
It's been a month that reinforces my message for the need to be prepared. My lovely writing and editing job that pays my mortgage is coming to an end. Rather than work on Christmas concerns, I've been updating my resume, joining LinkedIn, and spreading the word that I need a job!

Because I believe in being prepared, I do have a small savings account. I also have an IRA that I can draw from. Best of all, I have some good leads on jobs. Hopefully I'll have more work lined up before I run out of savings. 

For me, this situation reinforces the idea of being prepared for the holidays. You never know when disaster is going to strike. If you don't plan in advance for Christmas, what happens if disaster strikes in November or December? You may not have the finances or interest for normal festivities. There may be no happy memories made. Your kids may remember the holiday as the worst in the history of holidays.

As for me, I had already started adding little gifts to my gift cabinet as I came across sale items that would make good gifts. My cards were bought and stashed away in January. I have a supply of Christmas wrapping paper and bows that may last until the Lord returns! Ready or not, Christmas is coming; it won't catch me by surprise because I do plan ahead. It may be a toned-down holiday this year, but it will still be fun. We'll make the new desserts we experimented with last month. We'll enjoy the free local activities. There will be gifts, even if most are of the homemade variety.

Some of you will be grandparents by the time Christmas rolls around. Some of you may become parents for the first or second time. Some will lose jobs, while others will find new jobs. Some will move to a new home or even a new region. This year may bring the biggest changes of your life . . . or it may be the same ol' same ol' that it always is. Either way, you can make Christmas special. It doesn't take a lot of money, but it does take thought, and it takes time. Don't leave it to chance.

Get motivated to start planning now for the best Christmas ever. You can bet I am!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February: Valentine Surprises can become Christmas Goodies!

Hello, Christmas Lovers!

It's the month of love, and Valentine's Day is almost upon us!

Did you find a special recipe during the Christmas season that you didn't have time to try? Maybe you could pull it out and make it for Valentine's Day. If it's a hit, then you'll have a new dish/dessert in your portfolio for December!

February is a good time for trying new recipes, at least in the northern hemisphere. It's winter and cold outside, keeping us indoors. The Super Bowl is over now, so there's not much left to do this month. You might as well experiment in the kitchen. :-) My daughter learned how to make cake balls last month, and she's making new flavors this month. This is something that we know will be a big hit come Christmas. Everyone who has tried them has raved about them! The more she makes, the easier it becomes. That right there is a great reason for trying new holiday recipes now rather than waiting until the bustling month of December!
My daughter's red candy coated peanut brittle

For those of you without a passion for cooking or candy-making, find something else creative to do with your time this month. Perhaps art is your passion. You might experiment with designs for homemade Christmas cards or gift wrap. Why sit on the couch facing the TV in your Snuggie, when you could be getting a head start on Christmas 2011?

Bright Idea: On Valentine's Day or the day after, check the clearance sales for bargains on items that would work as Christmas gifts. Love isn't just for Valentine's Day, you know! I'll be looking for red candy sprinkles that can be used on cakes, cookies, and candies!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Have You Had Snow Recently? Will You See Snow Again Soon?

Ornaments on the Snow
I love snow -- just can't get enough of the sparkling white stuff! Since I work from home and my daughter is enrolled in an online school at home, snow doesn't throw off our schedule. It just enhances it. :)

A week ago we spent the week snowed in. It was a wonderful experience, and it gave us time to  do more cooking and to try a new recipe. We made red velvet cake balls, and I'm gleeful to report that they were awesome! They will be great for Valentine's Day, and they will be perfect for Christmas. 

Red Velvet Cake Balls - like candy!
Snow is in the forecast again. I didn't think to tell you earlier, but I'm telling you now. If you get snowed in with the power still on, you will have the perfect opportunity to try new recipes that you might enjoy during your Christmas festivities. As it so often happens, we can't find the time to experiment with new dishes and desserts in December. We may have found some promising recipes, but time ran out, and we stuck to our old faithfuls and tucked those promising recipes away for next year. Well, untuck them! Get to the store while the roads are still clear and collect your ingredients. Then when it snows and you're stuck at home, you can make the most of it and whip up some new foods. 

By the way, if you get snowed in and your Christmas decorations are still up, you might want to go ahead and pack those away. February is fast approaching. I know snow makes you want to lie on the couch, eating and watching movies and sporadically gazing out the window, but please do yourself a favor and accomplish a chore or two while you have the chance. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, January 10, 2011

January Head Start!

Leo the Cat at the Front Door
The Christmas decorations are mostly put away. For me, this is quite an accomplishment. In the past it's been closer to the end of the month, and occasionally into the first or second week of February before I've handled that time-consuming chore! Now I'm sitting up in anticipation of seeing the promised snowfall. I almost want to run get my Christmas lights and put them back up so I can take "Christmas" pictures in the snow! Have you ever done that? A few times in my life I've staged a Christmas photo in January. One was when we brought our first baby home from the hospital one January 3rd. He was born early in December with some health issues, and the agency didn't let us know that we had a foster baby waiting until after the holidays were over! Well, in my mind no child should miss his first Christmas, so I put a little elf cap on his head and sat his carseat in front of a fake fireplace decorated with poinsettias, and I took his picture as if it were still Christmas. 

Anyway, you know why I'm writing, don't you? Christmas clearance sales began the day after December 25 and have continued into January. Have you taken advantage of any? You can snag some sweet deals on cards, gift wrap, party supplies, decorations, and other Christmas items! Buy these things now and put them in your designated "Christmas corner." When the holidays roll around again, your money can go toward gifts and groceries rather than these other "essentials" that every Christmas-lover simply has to have!

I got two boxes of Christmas cards at 50% off -- the store was almost out of these, and I knew they wouldn't last until the 75% markdown. I went back to the store when the holiday clearance was reduced to 75% off, and I got two different boxes of cards -- cards that I had liked but had seen that they had plenty left during the 50% off sale. I'm all set on cards! 

I went to another store's sale and got a set of ornaments for my daughter, whose tree was sparsely decorated this year. She had graduated to a full-size tree and just didn't have enough ornaments to cover it, so next year she'll be all set. I also bought a good-quality snowflake stocking to replace my cheap one that started falling apart. The 75% off sales are the best time to buy stockings for the mantle! The expensive ones often don't sell out at full price, so you can get a quality product for little money. 

I bought holiday paper plates and napkins. I used some for a New Year's Day gathering with friends, and the rest I saved. They don't take up much space.

The last purchase I made was two books written with a Christmas setting. My mother loves to read, and I know she will enjoy receiving those books to read during her Christmas break. 

Not only am I now prepared with cards that I could send right after Thanksgiving (if I do things right), but I've also started shopping for gifts. I wouldn't buy perishable items this early, but there are some standard gifts that keep well. Books, candles, ornaments, mugs, photo albums, snow globes, etc. When you can find these at 75% off, and you haven't already spent yourself into the red, it's smart to get started on your gift stash. 

Just remember, it's not a bargain if you already spent your money. I wouldn't want you to get into debt with your holiday shopping if you don't have the spare cash for it. It's worth keeping in mind next time around, though. It's a great idea to save some money for the January sales, andit  gives you that much less to shop for come next November and December!

What have you done so far this month to get a head start on Christmas 2011?