Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Family Photo Tips

Empty box, but so pretty!
Take family photos early in the day when everyone is fresh and alert.

Shots at a festival of trees -  pose with the beautiful (and empty) packages on display. :-)

Sweatshirts are comfy, but they look bulky and sloppy in photos. The fewer who wear them for photos, the better.

Don’t make everyone pose in matching outfits—though coordinating colors is nice—and keep prints to a minimum. A photo where you see polka dots, stripes, flowers, and plaid is a photo that causes eye strain. ;-)

Coordinating or matching pajamas make a fun shot. One of my favorite family photos has my husband in a red bathrobe (over pajamas) sitting in front of the tree, while our daughter and I wore red plaid flannel gowns and our son wore plaid pajamas and settled in around him.

Do not hide behind the camera. I don't care how much you fret about your weight, hair, or aging face. You are more than your outsides. Your family loves you for who you are inside, and depriving them of family photos because of your dissatisfaction with your reflection in the mirror is selfish. That’s right, I said it! Our families, for the most part, see us through eyes of love; they don't see all the flaws that make us cringe. Look. Someday, you’ll be gone. Those photos will be a comfort to your loved ones only if you are IN them.

You can't threaten someone into looking relaxed and happy. If someone is taking a photo of kids, try jingling a bell to get their attention. If you use a timer, decide where you would like the group to look, and place a wrapped gift there. Tell the kids that once you get some good pictures, you will open the gift. Ask them if they think Frosty the Snowman's magic hat is in the box. Fill the box with something that everyone can share, like candy, snack mix, or little party trinkets.

Think about taking silly pictures first. People are often more relaxed and natural after that, so you may get a better normal shot. Of course, if you have a child who would be wound up and unable to stop being silly, save the silly pics for last, letting the child know that after you get a "good" group shot, you will take a silly shot.

Distract children who don't want their picture taken by giving them a small toy. They may not look at the camera, but they also won't pout or cry and ruin the shot.

That’s all for now! Christmas breakfast is calling my name. May you all have a warm and wonderful family Christmas.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dealing with Difficult Relatives

I have been fortunate that, in my extended family, there are no “problem people” to make the holidays difficult. However, there was a couple in my distant past with whom I couldn’t spend a weekend without getting a sick headache that was followed by “tossing my cookies.” Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with that kind of stress anymore, but I can sympathize with those who still do. That’s why I want to share this blog post I found: 8 tips for dealing with difficult relatives during the holiday season.

My coping advice is to smile, nod, and say nothing when someone brings up a controversial topic. My nodding has less to do with agreeing than the fact that yes, I hear where you are coming from.

How do you handle difficult people during the holidays?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Easy Centerpiece Idea

I love table centerpieces, and I have an assortment to suit the changing seasons. When there are just two or three of us at the table, none of those centerpieces obstruct our view of each other, but with a large gathering, a big centerpiece can make conversation across the table difficult.  I remember one year when I hosted Thanksgiving dinner, and my brother-in-law suddenly hoisted my big autumn flower arrangement (a gift from my father’s funeral) in the air and sat it on the floor behind him! He had no interest in craning his neck to see family members around the table!

Has that ever happened to you? It’s funny now, but I was flustered and embarrassed then. You want your table to be festive, but at the same time, you want your dinner guests to feel comfortable at the table. As I was glancing through some old Christmas snow photos this morning, I realized I was looking at a creative centerpiece idea that will solve both problems for your December entertaining.

You lay a wreath in the middle of your table and pile ornaments in the center. Ta-dah! You now have a low-lying centerpiece that won’t block anyone’s view around the table. (If you still want a bit of height, add a candlestick to the center and pile the ornaments around it.)

I have a collection of wreaths in traditional greenery, grapevine, and shimmering tinsel. You can choose whatever suits your decor or personal style. Your ornaments may be elegant or fun, one color or a kaleidoscope of colors, plastic or glass. For a dinner party, you might invite guests to choose an ornament from the centerpiece to take home!

Centerpieces don’t have to be towering monuments to the Christmas spirit, and they don’t have to break your budget. Play with what you already have, visit a thrift or consignment store if you must, and enjoy an easy holiday centerpiece at every meal served at your table.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Preparation for Company, or Gift Idea -- Books on Organization

Preparation for Company, or Gift Idea? You decide!

I’m very familiar with the following three books and wrote about them on another blog. For my Christmas blog, I am proposing that you might consider one of these as either a way to help you prepare for Christmas (just 3 weeks away) or as a gift for a practical friend or family member who has talked about needing help/motivation to get organized. (This would not be the gift to give to someone looking for something romantic under the tree! Also, I don’t advise you to use a tool like one of these books as a hint that someone’s organizational skills don’t meet your expectations. That plan could backfire in a horrible way!)

Organizing from the Heart: Change Your Mindset, Conquer Your Challenges by Baker, Beutler, and Whisnant

Total Home Makeover: Renewing Your Space & Spirit by Renee Metzler

Declutter Now! Uncovering the Hidden Joy and Freedom in Your Life by Lindon and Sherry Gareis 

Each book has a different way of presenting the material, so readers can choose from among them which style best suits them. (If you believe that reading about organization will prevent you from starting, choose a book with worksheets or charts and daily goals. Those might provide the motivation you lack.)

Organizing from the Heart is the shortest book at 119 pages. (It can be purchased for download if you are in a hurry to use it yourself!) It offers a fun organizing personality quiz; short chapters that include a small amount of story in addition to introducing a concept linked to Scripture and a reflection, action, and inspiration; space for journaling, and a leader’s guide in the appendix for use in small groups if desired (with 12 chapters, the book lends itself to use in a quarterly study). The authors suggest that getting organized can be an act of worship—an intriguing idea. If you like variety, you will enjoy this book. You can check it out at their blog:

Total Home Makeover is 222 pages long and offers a 20-day planner with a short daily devotional and space for journaling, followed by coaching sessions, to-do’s, anecdotes, worksheets, and ideas for rewarding ourselves each week for following the plan. The purpose of this book is to transform you, your family, and your home. If you like charts and worksheets, this book is for you! You can check it out at

At 248 pages, Declutter Now! is the longest and perhaps most intensive book. The authors are certified Christian life coaches. Not only do they discuss decluttering your home but also your heart, mind, body, and soul. There are no charts or worksheets; if you prefer to read without the pressure of journaling or filling out worksheets and charts, you’ll want to get this book. You can check it out at

Disclosure of Material Connection: I am an editor at Ambassador International, the company that published two of these three books. Of those two, I was the editor for one. The third book, I edited freelance. No one asked me to review these books. I only recommend books that I have personally read and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

5 Steps to Declutter Christmas! | Action Plan Minstries

Yours Truly as a Fairy Godmother
(many years ago)
5 Steps to Declutter Christmas! | Action Plan Minstries

I want to share the above blog with you (click on the green title); it offers  excellent advice to help you get ready for the fast-approaching holidays! (Especially if you don’t have a fairy godmother or your own magic wand ...)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Success, Again! The Christmas Pinterest Challenge

Before I move on to other Christmas topics in the coming days and weeks, I want to take a moment to crow about my latest success. *grins*

I had a recipe for Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Biscuit Muffins pinned to my Pinterest board. My daughter and I made these for breakfast yesterday and fell in love! They are so easy and so good! We substituted vanilla soymilk for the milk, and they turned out fine. I didn't notice a difference at all!

We're going to freeze what we didn’t eat so that we can have them one busy December morning. We want to make more, as well. That recipe is definitely a keeper! It’s easier than the brunch casserole I make once a year and the ingredients are similar. If you do a search for the recipe, you’ll find  a lot of happy homemakers who have copied it. I don’t know who came up with it originally.

This week, plans are to bake and freeze some cookies. I may try a new cookie or candy recipe. I pinned a recipe for microwave divinity that looked intriguing ...

How are you coming on the Christmas Pinterest Challenge? December will be here before we know it! Don’t let it sneak up on you!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Christmas Pinterest Challenge Results ... with Photos


The second recipe I chose for my challenge, Cherry Coke Float Cupcakes, has to be the best thing I ever baked! And I will most definitely be baking and freezing more, which I will thaw, finish, and serve during the Christmas holidays.

Having favored quick mixes over scratch baking for years, I had forgotten how scrumptious cakes made from scratch can be. These chocolate with cola cupcakes came out of the oven with rounded tops that stayed rounded. I ate one plain and was delighted with the texture and flavor.

A day or so later, I removed the centers and added cherry pie filling, followed by a powdered sugar-and-cola glaze. Then, of course, I ate one. Wow, so very good!

The next day, I beat heavy cream and powdered sugar together and then piped it onto the cupcakes. I have never in my life made frosting like that, and I was a little bit scared that it would be a flop. I usually just get my frosting in a can. Oh my, it was so good! I added a maraschino cherry on top of two cupcakes. My daughter and I each ate a cupcake and were very excited. Then I put the rest of the frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator to see how long the frosting would stay good.

I thought perhaps the frosting would “melt” down the sides after sitting for a while, but five days later, when we polished off the last of the cupcakes, it still looked and tasted fresh! So now I know that I can prepared these cupcakes in advance of a party and not worry about something going wrong. And that’s the purpose of experimenting year round—or at least a couple of months early.

The most time-consuming part of this dessert is mixing and baking it. So that is what I will do again soon and then freeze. Then, a few days before the party I’m planning, I will thaw them out, fill them with cherries, glaze, and frost them.

Now, as for the other part of the challenge. I didn’t quite make it. This time, my plan to do a craft with my daughter was run off course by a fender-bender that she had with my car. Instead of a fun evening, I had to calm her down, talk her through what she was supposed to do (which meant I had to look it up), call my insurance company, find a ride to the scene of the accident, and so forth. The process still isn’t over.

Life happens, every day. Plans get thwarted. That’s another reason for preparing early! Christmas is less than two months away. Even though I haven’t been able to make the decorations as planned, I still have time. I still have time to make and freeze cupcakes and cookies. I have time to experiment with a few more recipes. I am in the middle of planning a Christmas mystery party. I will be prepared for December before it arrives. And then, if an illness or accident or something else unforeseen happens, it won’t throw me into a tailspin. I will be ready, not rushed.  All because I planned ahead!

How are your plans coming?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Update on the Christmas Pinterest Challenge

Have you taken the challenge? Care to share the results?

As for me, my weekend plans ended up keeping me away from home and the challenge, for the most part. I went to the store and got the ingredients I didn’t already have so that I could bake the cherry coke float cupcakes but ran out of time to make them, so I switched plans and went for a crockpot recipe of potatoes with bacon and cheese. It seemed like a no-fail recipe since I love potatoes AND bacon AND cheese, but in the end, I was not impressed with the results. My daughter liked it well enough, so we’ll eat the leftovers, and I may try it again sometime and see if I can do better, but not for Christmas.

My daughter has the next two days off work, so we are going to devote some time to the Pinterest challenge, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

As for my weekend busyness, here’s what happened: Friday, I had to take my car to the shop because it was skipping badly. While it was being worked on, my daughter and I walked downtown and had lunch, wandered around and took pictures, stopped for dessert, and walked some more. We ended up walking more than two miles!

Saturday we both worked. Then I made a batch of chili and took it to a friend’s house for a chili cookoff. I had never entered a cookoff before. I tied for 3rd place and was awarded with a small chili-shaped dish. That was fun! The best fun was tasting all the different chilis. I loves me some chili!

Sunday after church and lunch, we traveled to a popular cornfield maze and enjoyed wandering lost among the corn stalks, talking about growing our own maze out of sunflowers. Wouldn’t that be pretty? Anyway, when we got home, I had to get some paywork done.

So, this week I plan to continue the challenge and do better. I can’t wait to try a cherry coke float cupcake! That recipe had better not let me down! I’ll post a photo of it and of the craft I end up making. (I have a bag of pinecones begging to be made into a window decoration...)

If you haven’t tried the challenge yet, it’s not too late! Simply pick a recipe and a craft or activity that you pinned to your Pinterest boards and do it! You have a week. What are you waiting for?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

You really should check this out!

While not exactly related to Christmas, this link will take you to a blog interview about me: Brenda's Interview. So, it’s about the person who blogs about Christmas All Year Long. :-)  My new friend Toi Thomas is responsible for the fun, so check it out! Get to know some fun facts about me and why I blog about preparing for Christmas! Consider it my early Christmas gift to you. ;-)  Teehee

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Christmas Pinterest Challenge!

Greetings to my Christmas-loving friends!

This week I’ve got a challenge for you, and I’m calling it The Christmas Pinterest Challenge. You know all those ideas you’ve pinned to your Pinterest boards—recipes, craft ideas, decorating ideas, gift ideas, etc.? They do you no good as long as they remain confined to that space on Pinterest.

Brenda’s Pinterest Boards

My challenge to you is to choose one recipe and idea for Christmas off those boards and try them this week. Then come back here and share the results!

Do the same with a new recipe and another idea next week. Do that for the next three to four weeks, and you may end up with some new holiday favorites and be that much closer to being prepared for a special Christmas season. (Note: eliciting help from family members IS allowed.)

Take the Christmas Pinterest Challenge now, before holiday preparations start to overwhelm you! And have fun!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Preparing for ... Preparing for Holiday Meals (yes, you read that right!)

My original recipe Dreamsicle Cake
My previous blog was about preparing in advance for your favorite holiday meals and homemade treats. I’ve already added something special to my freezer for a December dinner. But, while perusing the contents of my refrigerators (I have two), my freezers (a small deep freeze plus the two that are part of my fridges), and my pantry, I saw a problem.

Someone has stored old, freezer burnt, and expired stuff inside those spaces! Can you believe that? So now I’ll need to clean out all the junk to have room for my soon-to-be prepared-early holiday foods!

So, today’s blog is a challenge. If it’s been a while, clean the yuck out of your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and cabinets. Toss all the old, bad, and questionable stuff. Organize what’s left and clear a space for what’s to come. You’ll feel good, and you’ll be ready to create some special foods to save for the coming holiday season!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Holiday Meals: Three Tips for Preparing in Advance for the Tastiest Christmas Season Ever!

Think it’s too early to start planning your holiday menus? Well, think again! If you’re anything like me, you daydream about creating special holiday dinners or parties, but you never seem to to pull it all together and make those daydreams a reality. Your time is limited, and you tend to rely on last-minute, store-bought goodies and fast food for much of the month!

One year, as a newlywed living far away from both sides of the family, I planned meals ahead and served "Christmas around the World" dinners for my husband and myself over the course of Christmas week. I was young, energetic, and full of ideas—I even learned how to make wiener schnitzel for our German meal! Other meals were based on Greek, Italian, and Mexican cooking. I had married a man who knew his way around a kitchen, and those special meals were joint efforts that made the holiday memorable for us.

Then came kids, obligations, and more responsibilities. Advance planning fell by the wayside. These years, I start the season with a list of family favorites that I intend to make, but many times when January arrives, I haven't made more than half of them. Sometimes by the time I want to make a special treat, the key ingredient has already been snatched from the store shelves! I'm flying through the season by the seat of my pants and letting myself down in the process.

It bothers me that I haven’t made Christmas cut-out cookies since my adult children were little. Thinking about that recently, I realized that I’ve been overlooking a simple solution! I do not have to rush through December, living on fast food, one batch of my homemade double decker fudge, and memories of yesteryear’s home-cooked meals.

There are three things I can do to ensure happy tummies and taste buds this year:

  • Stock up on ingredients - I’m going to organize my recipes, make sure I have the staple items in my pantry, and create a list of the non-staple ingredients (such as cherry chips) and keep that list in my purse. As I come across those items, I’m going to buy them and stock the pantry so that when I’m ready to bake, I don't have to make a panicked rush to store after store to track down a hard-to-find item. Making those purchases now (or as soon as items become available) will give me peace of mind and will also free up my December budget.
  • Buy and store frozen entrees, appetizers, and desserts - While I’m planning to serve up some good home-cooked holiday meals, let’s be realistic. It will be a busy month. I’m glad I can rely on some frozen faves from the store. Instead of spending the money later, when money is typically tighter and items become harder to find, I'm going to plan ahead and shop in advance. We love Nancy’s deli spirals and Lawler’s mini cheesecakes for parties, so I’ll get those. Our traditional Christmas breakfast is monkey bread, which Bridgford makes so I don’t have to, and theirs is ready in less than three minutes! Win! Then, I’ll contemplate sales on the rich variety of frozen casseroles and slow cooker meals and add a few of those to my deep freeze. Finally, I’ll watch the sales on meats and stock up on those that I’ll need for my favorite main dishes.
  • Bake and freeze - Why didn’t I think of this sooner??? Those special dishes and desserts that I rarely find time to make in December? Many can be prepared in advance and frozen for later! Those Christmas cut-out cookies I mentioned can be baked and frozen without icing. I could make some today and thaw them out in December, whip up some icing and decorate them, and voila! Quick and easy and yet home-made! For a successful freeze, follow directions for wrapping and freezing cookies. Betty Crocker's website says baked cookies and cookie dough will keep for 2 months, but I’ve seen other sites say up to 6 months is good for pre-baked. Un-iced cakes will also freeze well. Get those holiday desserts made early, and don’t sweat the Christmas rush! 

I’ll be doing some other cooking/freezing as well. A favorite but time-consuming side dish is my sweet & sour green beans and carrots (with apples, onions, and bacon) made on the stove top. That will be going in the deep freeze too. The USDA offers a fact sheet here about frozen food safety. Not everything freezes well. I checked my old Once-a-Month Cooking book for advice, but you can review this list compiled by the National Center for Home Food Preservation. 

The chill of autumn is in the air. December will be here before we know it! What are you doing to get ready?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Before Disaster Strikes: Protect Your Decorations

Ornaments bought for a white tree
I bought my first boxes of ornaments in 1984. As one who relishes the Christmas season, naturally I’ve collected ornaments, garland, knick-knacks and other shiny and colorful decorations every year since then, in additional to six artificial trees of various sizes and colors, so you can just imagine the amount of Christmas stuff I have to store! I have a holiday storage room in the basement, partially set under the stairs but larger than just that space. Some items are stored in plastic boxes with lids, but other items were stashed in cardboard boxes with their contents written on the sides along with some creative doodles to illustrate the category of contents. A set of shelves and some nails in the wall afforded me some extra storage space, but most things are stacked on the floor. And they were safe...until this summer.

In June I had the first flood ever in my basement. It’s not a leaky place. I love it so much down there that when I moved in, I put my bedroom suite down there and have been quite happy. The problem came not from rains but from my combo furnace/central air unit located on the other side of the wall, in the unfinished side. The drain pipe got clogged, and water ran over the drip pan and seeped everywhere—including into that storage closet. 

The decorations in the plastic boxes were safe, but my cardboard boxes got wet. A friend came over and helped me empty out those boxes to save the contents. Fortunately, our quick response prevented anything from being ruined. 

I learned my lesson. I bought some large plastic containers with lids to replace the cardboard boxes and packed up the now-dry decorations in those. No more cardboard storage for me!

Today I discovered more water. I don’t know what the HVAC man did the last time he was here, but apparently it wasn’t enough! While I’m unhappy to have a stream across the concrete floor and into the storage room, I’m relieved that 1) I discovered it before it could really get into the carpet on the finished side of the wall, and 2) I don’t have to worry about my decorations, some of which are family heirlooms. 

Are your Christmas things stored in a safe place, away from possible rodent or water damage? If not, take my advice and make plans to upgrade your storage, the sooner the better. You DON’T want to arrive at the holiday season and discover that your cherished decorations have been damaged or ruined. Some things, like your children's handmade ornaments and your mother’s wood and plaster nativity set, can’t be replaced.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

More details about the Tax-Free Weekend

Just a quickie! I discovered that Sam's Club has posted a list to their website of the states, dates, and items eligible for tax-free status! Some states allow clothing and accessories and linens and things with the educational supplies. So check it out and see what you could get tax free! Here's the link: Sams Club Link

Monday, July 30, 2012

Using the Tax-Free Weekend to your Christmas Advantage

As far as I know, seventeen of the United States are hosting a tax-free weekend this month, including my own state. High school and college students are preparing to return to school. There will be bargains galore to be found among necessary school items. Even stores that don't sell school supplies will be creating sales to lure shoppers inside! So, while your mind may be on getting your kids ready to go back to school, I suggest taking some time to consider holiday gift ideas that can be purchased and stored till Christmas. 

You can stock up on some fun stocking stuffers - what kid doesn't love pencils, markers, silly erasers, and activity pads? Budding artists will enjoy an activity kit that you create by filling a box with items such as crayons, colored pencils, markers, stencils, paper, scissors, glitter glue, and construction paper. Buying these things now will save you from shopping in the Christmas crowds and could save you a nice chunk of change.

Do you plan to participate in Operation Christmas Child, where you fill a shoebox with small items for needy children? Stock up now! Then you won't have to rush around trying to fill a box when the time comes.

Don’t leave your Christmas shopping for December–unless you love fighting for parking spaces and shopping in crowds. Do what you can in advance, and you'll be able to relax and enjoy the season like never before.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

July: Star Stuff

Clearance sales this month feature lots of left over USA Independence Day items. Some items can easily transfer to Christmas, like the red and silver star-emblazoned paper goods, table centerpieces, and other decorations. Would you be interested in a patriotic-themed Christmas tree this year? If so, scope out the clearance sales for things you can use to decorate your tree!

If you (or your kids or grandkids) need a fun summer craft, check out this wire star craft at Wired-Star. Make sturdy new Christmas ornaments!

Or, you could make the easier, rustic, cinnamon star ornament. Directions are here: Cinnamon Christmas Star. You could even attach these to your wrapped gifts for added interest. Add a small banner with the recipient's name on it, and it becomes a gift tag!

For something intricate made of paper, see the woven star ornament tutorial located here: woven-star-from-vintage-book-pages.

Hmmm, now where did I put my wire cutters?

Monday, June 11, 2012

June: Let's Think about Christmas Blessings

Blessings for Christmas! Who doesn’t want those? We can give and receive Christmas blessings, and it won't take much time or money. Here’s how:

Glass candy box with lid, lined with holiday tissue paper
plus an angel pen and a stack of note paper
1) Give the gift of a blessings box. Take any box with a lid, be it wooden, ceramic, cardboard–you get the idea. It could even be a handmade container or something unusual you find in a thrift shop. Fill it with slips of paper on which you have written or printed blessings: special quotes, Bible verses, and memories of ways in which the recipient has been a blessing in your life. This is something that you could make a family affair, with everyone contributing their own little notes on slips of paper. Collect 365, and you'll have a blessing to offer for every day of the year. What recipient wouldn't love such a heartfelt gift of love? 

Metalwork bowl lined with holiday tissue paper
2) Bless yourself (and your family) during the holiday season with a blessings bowl. You don't have to use a bowl; a candy dish or wide-mouthed vase would do just as well. Put it near the door you all regularly use. Beside it, place a small note pad and a pen. Starting at the beginning of the month, family members can stop by the blessings bowl to jot down blessings that come to mind. As guests drop in, ask them to take a moment to write a blessing on a note and drop it into the container. Save them all for Christmas Day. Some time in the afternoon or evening, after gifts have been opened and the holiday feast has been devoured, when the day's festivities have otherwise ended, you can extend the celebration by reading the blessings that you've collected. What a heartwarming way to end the day–reflecting on the blessings of Christmas, God's love, family, and friends!
Craft-project candy bowl with notes inside

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Take Advantage of Free Photo Editing Ops

Now is a good time to think about ways to use your photos for the coming Christmas season. Why? Because for the time being, allows you to use all their editing tools for free, no registration required!

[Update: It was bound to happen. Sometime before the Christmas season 2012, PicMonkey began charging a monthly fee to use some their "Royale" features. Non-royale features are still free, though.]

Possible uses for your photos include turning them into Christmas cards or postcards, including a print inside store-bought or handmade cards, inserting one or more into a computer-created Christmas newsletter, creating gifts tags, or even turning them into ornaments to hang from a tree or garland! 

Your photos don’t have to be perfect for these projects as long as they are in focus rather than blurry. Too dark or too light can be adjusted. Dull can be brightened. Red eyes can be corrected. Cropping can remove things that detract from the picture. There are many, many tools and effects to make an ordinary photo extraordinary!

If you want to add text to your photo, look for one that has a fairly solid dark or light space. Photos that demonstrate “the rule of thirds” are great for this. In the example, my daughter’s composition features me in the left third of the frame, leave two thirds for my message.

This next example features a Christmas scene without people, an option if you didn’t get any family photos that you feel like using, or you have a collection of Christmas items that you love and want to share with family and friends! As you can see, this one also featured a dark space that was perfect for text.

Don’t forget to add the photographer’s name and date in one of the lower corners of the photo!

This photo has no text but would make a pretty card. I had fun taking this indoor shot and playing with two special effects available: frosted edges and snow. This means you could take a family photo this summer and “winterize” it with frosted or snowflake edges and even a snowy overlay. 

While you’re at it, you might consider some photo gift ideas while this free photo editing is available. It’s not too early to start stocking your gift closet! Any photo center offers mugs, calendars, keychains, t-shirts, throws, and more, all personalized with your photos. Or, budget-minded folks may choose to enlarge and frame their special prints, like my daughter did when she made this one and added a Bible verse. It was a big hit!

There are so many fun and fancy options for making your photos pop! While they are free, check it out! And, if you know of other free photo editing sites online, please leave a comment and let us know. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

And Just Like That, 114 Days Have Passed...

Still Alive and Showing Off
My Birthday Hummingbird Ring!
And it's 252 days till Christmas! And where have I been? Well, not blogging about Christmas, obviously! Did you miss me? I may not have been blogging about Christmas, but I was still thinking about it. (How could I not? Every time I go in the basement, I see the few Christmas decorations that haven't been tucked back into the holiday closet yet...)

 Here in the northern hemisphere, spring has sprung—and pollen has exploded all over the place. You may be outdoors, frolicking through fields of dandelions and chickweed and wondering, as you realize your lawn is overdue for a good mowing, why you were so anxious for warm weather. 

If you are stuck inside, trying to avoid breaking out in a rash, hives, or puffy, red eyes, you might spare a few moments to think about our favorite holiday season. Easter has passed (and with it, the last Easter birthday I will have in my lifetime), and you could snag some clearance-priced Easter grass to use in place of tissue paper inside gift bags or boxes or to use in clear ornament crafting. Tissue paper gets crumpled and torn. Easter grass will last for years. Try it!

You might be able to buy out the remaining chocolate-covered peeps. If you do, save them (maybe even freeze them) to use for microwave s'mores! All they need is a graham cracker and 15 seconds (or less) in a microwave. It's an unexpected winter treat—although I wouldn't blame you if you gave in to temptation and ate them sooner. After all, Mother's Day is just around the corner, and what better way to enjoy time with your children or grandchildren than with an ooey-gooey, sticky treat? 

Remember that it's never too soon to start stocking your gift closet/cupboard/box with items you've made or bought. If you want to give homemade jar gifts or home-filled gift baskets, now is the time to start collecting jars and baskets. Check your craft stores for sales, but don't forget your local thrift stores as well. The last thing you want to do is arrive at the end of November and panic because you didn't prepare in advance and don't have time to find good deals on the items you need so that you can do Christmas the way you want!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Clearance Sales = Bargains Galore

Welcome to 2012! It's a bright New Year filled with promise and—so far—mild weather. Here in the sunny South, we've normally had a winter storm by now (freezing rain more often than snow, but snow fell THREE magical times last year), but other than a few days of low temps, this winter has felt more like early spring. But you didn't come for a weather report, did you! So let's talk about Christmas clearance sales.

I went out last week to take stock of the after-Christmas bargains and found that most items were being offered at half off the normal retail price. I prefer to get my Christmas clearance at 75% off unless I really love an item and fear that the store will sell out before they can reduce the price to more than half off. This is the week that I typically start checking for those 75% off sales. A few stores are anxious to get rid of their holiday items. (Walmart is clearing things out quickly at 75% off. Michaels Crafts has stuff for 70% off. Walgreens holiday candy is 75% off, but non-edible holiday items are still just half off. Big Lots and Dollar General are still at 50% off. I assume Target and Kmart have big clearance sales as well, but I haven't made my way there yet.)

NOTE ADDED 1/9/12: Hobby Lobby is also clearing their holiday items out for 90% off! Not a lot left, but I got a $50 tree skirt for $5!

At Walmart I picked up an iridescent bow tree topper and a couple of gift boxes for CDs, sure I'll continue my tradition of gifting music to my daughter. At Walgreens I got a few holiday candies for us to enjoy this month. (What I didn't think about at the time was that I could get a bag of red and green candies and separate the reds from the greens and be all set for Valentine's and St. Patrick's Day!)

Brenda's Picks for Best Buys:

Artificial Christmas Trees: I bought my last one at an after-Christmas sale, knowing that I needed to replace a battered old tree. You won't get the most popular model this way, but you'll still get a good tree at a decent price.

Christmas Cards: there is no reason to ever pay full price for cards. You can always find a good selection left after Christmas, and your chances of picking up several boxes at 75% off are excellent if you wait. This is how I am able to get embossed, foiled, glittered cards for dirt cheap!

Party supplies: disposable holiday plates and napkins don't take up much storage space and are a great deal at 75% off. Plus, this forces you to start planning to host a gathering in advance, making it more likely that you do it! ;-)

Gift Wrap, Bows, Ribbons, Gift Tags: if you come across a great sale, you can stock up. I haven't bought wrapping paper for at least three years, and I still have plenty. I re-use bows and have more than enough ribbon for future gifts and craft projects.

Nice to Haves:

Fancy tree skirts: honestly, I would never pay $20 for a skirt that goes under a tree and gets covered with gift boxes, but for $5, you bet I'll snatch one up and admire it under my tree! And, I've discovered that the $20 skirts are well-made and outlast the cheap ones, making them a really good value.

Fancy garland: I love to wrap my trees with expensive-looking, shiny, thick garland! And it holds up well over the years. I've also been known to drape it around doorways and mantlepieces. But I would never pay full price for it.

Good ornaments: for many years I shopped the clearance sales at Hallmark for special ornaments for myself and my children. We have the complete series of a number of ornaments, making them very special. Now I shop in discount stores for boxes of ornaments that coordinate with the special ornaments I already have.

Fancy stockings: Cheap Christmas stockings don't last long; they can lose their shape, get fuzzy and picked, and the loops can also tear. You are better off, if you choose to use stockings in your holiday traditions, to get the more expensive, sturdier kind on clearance. They are so pretty and will last year after year.

Santa hats: again, not a necessity, but fun to have for pictures, and the pricier ones stay nice longer than the cheap felt ones. Just think, a good $10 hat at 75% off is only $2.50, and many are less than that. Think about getting one for each member of your family and stage your holiday photo well before December wearing them-- you'll be able to include the photo in your Christmas cards!

Don't forget to shop your thrift stores. They are trying to get rid of Christmas items too! It's exciting to find what you want at a fraction of the cost. I found the items pictured below while browsing in my local thrift store. I have a special fondness for old-fashioned Christmas items. And the metal trays tickle my fancy in a way colorful plastic ones can't and will come in handy for that party I plan to throw next December. I got these for fifty cents each. Then I found two complete sets of greeting cards! I love winter cardinal scenes, and that card has some gold foil around the birdhouse entrance. I love Christmas trees too, and those cards are embossed and also feature gold foil and iridescent glitter! I paid a bit above 12% for the bird cards and 10% of the original cost for the tree cards. Both boxes smelled of moth balls, but after sitting out for a few days, the aroma has lightened up considerably. Actually, the aroma made them more appealing. Who had them? How many years were they stored away? Why weren't they used? The mystery is as enticing to me as the artwork!

Before I go, I just want to remind you that a bargain is not a bargain if you don't have the cash for it. Sometimes you just have to stay home and ignore the sales.

So, what's the best deal you've found in holiday clearance?