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?