Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's in that Package?

"The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution."
-Stephen Sondheim

Let's play guess what's in that package... 
[BTW... if you happen to know the recipient in person, you're sworn to secrecy!!]

Inspired by this awesome Box of Teacher Goodies from the super creative eighteen25 blog, I couldn't wait to adapt the idea for my own Christmas gifts.

After watching my sister and brother-in-law huddle around a crossword puzzle book while on vacation this summer, I decided to whip up a "Crossword Kit" for Jordan, full of lots of goodies that would come in handy while working puzzles.

 Here is what's inside:
  • Pages of a crossword puzzle book rolled up and tied with string
  • Needs no explanation : golf pencils
  • Keep it sharp : pencil sharpener
  • For those occasional mistakes : pink pearl eraser
  • When you're feeling confident : pocket pens
  • Mark your page : decoupaged magnetic bookmarks
  • Relieve the stress : brain-shaped stress ball
  • Nourish your mind : black and white M&Ms
  • Boost your brainpower : mini Rubik's cube
  • Finished the puzzle... give yourself a hand : plastic clapper toy
You could also pair this with a great puzzle book, an electronic crossword game, a daily crossword calender, a crossword puzzle dictionary, the movie Wordplay, a set of mystery novels about crosswords, or the World's Largest Crossword puzzle. You'll just have to guess which one I chose...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Signed, sealed, and delivered...

"Christmas is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas."
-Dale Evans

Well, maybe not delivered yet... but they're on their way.

I took advantage of a freebie deal from VistaPrint and printed our photo and Christmas message as a small postcard with envelopes. I'm pretty tickled with them.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Not our Christmas card...

"Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly."
-Rose Franken

In honor of our Christmas cards being dropped in the mailbox today, here are some of the photos we rejected for this year's card...

Can't imagine why!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Felt letters how-to...

"Wanted: a needle swift enough to sew this poem into a blanket."
-Charles Simic

My youngest nephew turns two next week. With his birthday so close to Christmas, I knew I wanted to make something special for him.

At first I was inspired by the many different ABC projects that I saw on Pinterest:

Then I remembered I'm a commitment-phobe, and I could never commit to 26 individual letters. But, what about numbers? There's only ten of them!

Look how cute they turned out!

If you want to make a set of your own, you will need:
  • Plenty of felt : I bought one mini-sheet of each color.
  • Plenty of thick embroidery thread
  • Needle
  • Stuffing : I actually used quilt batting because I could cut it into strips.
  1. Print outlines of the big numbers on cardstock; I fit four to a page.
  2. Trace each number on the felt with a sharpie.
  3. Stack/fold your felt and cut two of each numbers.
  4. Use the blanket stitch to sew around the exterior of each number. I had to reacquaint myself via a tutorial at Futuregirl Craft Blog.
  5. Use a pencil/pen/chopstick/etc. to stuff the numbers as you go. Stitch up the final hole.
  6. Throw the number to the side, and start the next one. Thank goodness that you have only 10 to do!
Find a small totebag or make a little drawstring bag to hold all of the numbers. And, of course don't forget to attach the cute tag!

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    What's under my tree...

    "You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving."
    -Author Unknown

    Take a guess... what do you think is inside? 
    Only one of my favorite gifts that I'm giving this year. One that I've been working on for a couple of months.

    Remember when my nephews came to stay with me for a week this summer? Here, here, here, here, here, and here.

    Needless to say, I took a lot of photos of all the fun things we did... with hopes of turning it into a photobook for them.

    And, then a couple of weeks ago, I took advantage of a free 8x8" photobook offer from Smilebooks--you can get one for yourself here!-- and all I had to pay for was shipping!

    I hope the boys will always look back on our week together with fond memories!

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Holiday (in)sanity...

    "Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide-bound hearts."
    -Lenora Mattingly Weber

    The #1 thing that keeps me sane throughout the Christmas season... the Better Christmas List app on my iPhone. 

    I've used it for three years straight, and I love it. I'm a total believer in picking up gifts throughout the year. (Come December, I'm always thrilled to discover that I can avoid the crowds at the mall and still stick to my budget.) But once a gift is hidden away in my secret gift stash, it's easy to forget that it's there. However, with a quick tap of my fingers, this app keeps track of my ever-growing gift list.

    While I'm pretty sure that this app has some functions that I still haven't utilized the fullest, I love the fact that I can
    • Archive the data from each year, so that I can see what gifts I gave last year and prevent any repeats.
    • Attach a photo of the gift after I buy it, so that I can match something else to it later, and I don't have to dig in the secret stash to remember exactly what it is.
    • Organize the list both by recipient and by what step I'm on (need to purchase, bought, wrapped, or delivered)-- the latter comes in handy especially during the month of December when I'm trying to pull it all together.
    • Add notes about each gift, so that I can compare prices and/or continue brainstorming.
    • Keep track of my budget, although I have to admit, I'm not very good at setting initial budget limits, so I always set them so that I'm way under-budget!
    • Match each recipient with their address and other contact info through my phonebook, so that I don't get stuck at the post office without my address book.
    • Be confident that I always have the list with me, so I don't have to keep up with a physical notebook (I'm always leaving those at home or even in the car anyway)!

    The gift wrapping awards...

    "Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love Divine; Love was born at Christmas; Star and angels gave the sign." 
    -Christina Rossetti

    I package up each gift with wrapping paper, ribbon, and a whole bunch of love. I hope the people on my Christmas list feel that love as they untie the bow and pull off the paper. 

    I have to admit though, some gifts are easier to wrap than others. Here are the winners of the 2011 Gift Wrapping Superlatives:

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Tied up with bows...

    "A joy that is shared is a joy made double."
    -John Roy

    I also have picked up a great ribbon-tying strategy that lets the gift box sit evenly on the table, although I can't seem to remember where I first saw it. (Previously I used a criss-cross ribbon method that left a twist on the bottom of the package that just didn't look as crisp as I desired.) I've since converted 100%.

    Here's how:
    1. Cross. Run ribbon under the back of the package. Bring the two ends up, so that one end is be significantly longer than the other-- in my example, the length of ribbon on the right side is about three longer than the left. Cross the ribbon end over the front of the package, so they run parallel to one another... the longer end should be on above the shorted end.
    2. Twist. Twist the ends of ribbon around each other, so that the longer ribbon (from the top) is now pointing down, the shorter ribbon (from the bottom) is now pointing up, and the intersection point is in the middle of the package.
    3. Wrap. Bring the longer ribbon around the back of the package and around to the front.
    4. Knot. Back at the original intersection point, tie a double knot between the two ends.
    5. Bow. Tie a pretty bow at the intersection point. Trim the ends so that they are equal in length.
      It takes a little practice, but your presents will look so polished!!

      Sunday, December 11, 2011

      All wrapped up...

      "As long as we know in our hearts what Christmas ought to be, Christmas is."
      -Eric Sevareid

      With the exception of a few handmade gifts that I need to finish, I have all of our Christmas presents bought and wrapped. I'm no expert gift wrapper by all means, but I have picked up a few tips over the last couple of years that make all of the difference for me.

      First off, wrapping paper quality is key. There is nothing more frustrating than that cheap drugstore giftwrap that tears in a million and one directions except for the way you want it to. I've tried many alternatives over the years, including brown kraft paper and matte paper, but I think I landed on my favorite.

      Last year during a half-off sale, I purchased two rolls of glossy-finish paper from Hobby Lobby (Brother Sister Design Studios). Not only are they fun coordinating patterns, but they even have a grid pattern printed on the reverse to help you cut in straight lines. They're surprisingly thick, allowing my scissors to glide right through. And, you can't even see through the white paper! I think I'm in love.

      Next, tags. I always like to find a clever way to address the presents for the recipients. Sometimes that means making my own tags, sometimes that means finding cute printables online, and once in awhile, it means printing customized tags for each person!  

      Some quick tag inspiration for you: Printable Gift Tag Roundup from Creature Comforts, Circle Snowflake Tags from Winnie0917, Printable Gift Tags from Skip To My Lou, and Fun with Fonts from Bugs and Fishes

      Last, ribbons. On a tip from Jordan Ferney on Oh Happy Day years ago, I purchased several rolls of 7/8" single face satin ribbon from PaperMart. She raves about this ribbon, and I agree. It's gorgeous! Unfortunately after several years with the same stash, I need to remember to order more before next year's holiday season.

      Tutorial on my awesome ribbon tying method coming up next!!

      Thursday, December 08, 2011

      A few Christmas scenes...

      "It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air."
      -W.T. Ellis

      This week I've put up a couple of holiday decorations and started wrapping some presents. There's no room in our little apartment to set out (or store) all of our decorations, but I couldn't resist a little bit of red and green.

      Love the little holiday tree that I printed from HP (found via Design Crush!). In typical Jana fashion, this simple project turned into quite the labor of love. I had to visit three stores to get printer ink (as soon as I had installed the new yellow ink, it informed me that I was also out of black!), and then I didn't read the instructions and went crazy with the paper cutter to remove the margins before I realized that the puzzle pieces wouldn't match up. Thankfully I had a fabric garland on hand, and as I trimmed the tree, I was able to disguise the mismatching.

      The perfect corner for our presents to sit. That is, until I finally get around the post office to send many of them on their way.

      Tuesday, November 22, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 21

      "The yin and yang of stark contrasts create a notion of a fine balance."
      -Valerie Kent

      Outside our apartment, just before the sun sets and the storm begins...

      Monday, November 21, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 20

      "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive."
      -Anäis Nin

      Taking three engineers on a hike through the mountains results in the nerdiest conversations ever. Despite the discussions about video games, fractions, the weight of rocks, and the chemical makeup of plastic, I enjoyed trailing behind the boys, feeling thankful that we have such wonderful friendship connections in our lives. 

      We slowly made our way over the wet rocks and through the mist, only to find that Table Rock was still surrounded by fog. We stopped for a snack and to take pictures at the summit anyway. Luckily just after this photo was taken, the clouds dispersed for a second, so that we could make out the outlines of the surrounding landscape.

      Picture Fall: Day 19

      "Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."
      -Les Brown

      To me, this is a beautiful, beautiful mess. It's the last few scraps of paper cut for my projects for the Epworth Craft Fair. For weeks I've been printing, cutting, and gluing. And, the end is almost in sight. Regardless of how well the products sell, it has been fun to work towards a goal like this.

      What goals are you close to achieving?

      Friday, November 18, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 18

      "Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop."

      When I need creative inspiration, I find that taking a break usually does the mind good.

      This week Rob finally figured out an arrangement to put my bike on the trainer here at the apartment. Although I'm no Lance Armstrong, I do enjoy a good spin. My mind goes completely blank as I pedal, which is sometimes quite a relief for my overactive brain. Our new setup allows me to watch shows on my laptop as I ride, which, I hate to admit, is all the motivation I need to put on my exercise clothes.

      Picture Fall: Day 17

      "We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."
      -Thornton Wilder

      Yesterday I was stuck in traffic during my errands. Apparently the interstate was shut down nearby, and all of the tractor trailers, etc were being redirected down my neighborhood streets. As I "patiently" waited to move from one stoplight to the next, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for supermarkets and superstores. I have more than six different superstores in a half mile radius from my current home. Not only am I able to pick up everything from fruit, meat, and cereal to laundry detergent and prescriptions at one spot... I also have choices of which brand to buy and which version is cheaper. Bounteous goodness, indeed.

      Picture Fall: Day 16

      There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.
      -Charles Dickens

      Really struggled with this prompt. But when I walked out on our porch, I was struck by the contrast of the shadows of the railing against the wall.

      Thursday, November 17, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 15

      "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts; therefore guard accordingly."
      -Marcus Aurelius

      As cliche' as it sounds, these days I get much joy from looking at the front of our refrigerator. I've carefully curated my collection of photos to include only my favorites... only the ones that make me smile. [Side note: these were the same photos I chose to display at school near my desk, knowing that they would lift my spirits after a hard day!]

      And, this particular message has been displayed on the whiteboard for a couple weeks. I am inspired every time I walk by.

      Picture Fall: Day 14

      "The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery."
      -Anais Nin

      Inspired by Julian Bialowas' untitled photo from last week. I set out to create my own. My camera skills are not nearly as impressive as Julian's; luckily, I've got Photoshop on my side.  :)  Still a pretty neat image, I think.

      Picture Fall: Day 13

      "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow."
      -Helen Keller

      This particular tree can't decide whether it wants to be yellow or green. I'm partial to both.

      Sunday, November 13, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 12

      "For fast-acting relief, try slowing down."
      -Lily Tomlin

      I know it's not Christmas season yet. But, yesterday my moment of relaxation was a spontaneous craft project. Inspired by thoughts about this year's Christmas cards, I pulled my paper craft stash from the closet and whipped this right up, while Rob and Thomas played video games in the background. Of course, only after hanging it up on our mantel and stepping back to admire my handiwork did I realize that we used a pennant banner in our card last year. Maybe I should try to think of something else... Any ideas?

      Picture Fall: Day 11

      "There's something strange and powerful about black-and-white imagery."
      -Stefan Kanfer

      I've been admiring these furry stalks on my daily walk to my Sylvan job. Patiently waiting for just the right Picture Fall prompt. When I read about this challenge to capture textures in black and white, I knew exactly what my subject would be.

      What have you been admiring lately?

      Friday, November 11, 2011

      11.11.11 at 11:11:11 am

      "Every second is of infinite value."
      -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

      Although November 11, 2011 is an oddity on the calendar, it's just been another regular day in my world as of late. At 11:11 am today, I'm still in my pjs, trying to decide if it's worth getting in the shower today... really, I'm thinking, is it worth blow-drying my hair? 

      I've got daytime television on the background because I work better with noise. Right now it's the Rachael Ray show. But I'm not really paying attention... I've got quite the to-do list for my freelance gig. Creating flyers, posting image on the website, researching advertising opportunities, and more. 

      Usually Fridays are slow, but not this morning. Hopefully things calm down this afternoon because I'd love to venture outside and maybe do a little Christmas shopping (or window-shopping!). 

      Picture Fall: Day 10

      “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
      -Virginia Woolf

      Lately we've often been having a house guest over around dinnertime. Rob's friend Thomas is regularly been at our apartment working out or just hanging out. My initial reaction is, "oh no, my go-to frozen stir fry meal is just not going to cut it." But, then once I realize I can justify making a big bowl of mashed potatoes and that we'll have rousing conversation along with the meal, it's hard not to embrace the extra mouth to feed.

      Thursday, November 10, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 9

      "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
      -Albert Camus

      It brings me such joy to finally live in a place that has vibrant fall colors. I'm amazed as I drive around town. I hope that the colors never cease to amaze me.

      Wednesday, November 09, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 8

      "It's sad to grow old, but nice to ripen."
      -Brigitte Bardot

      This has been Rob's nightly cocktail, as of late.

      [Btw, I took almost 50 photos of this dang soda can, and I still know nothing about manipulating the light with the manual settings on my camera. I don't know why these concepts won't stick in my brain.]

      Tuesday, November 08, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 7

      "falling leaves hide the path so quietly."
      -John Bailey

      Look at that bokeh in the background...

      Monday, November 07, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 6

      "I'd like to die with my boots on."
      -Daniel Berrigan

      I'm a day behind. So sue me... It just takes a day for me to marinate on the daily prompt before I know what and how to post about it.

      Sunday, November 06, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 5

      "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."
      -Ralph Waldo Emerson

      This week I ran across this really inspirational website, called Operation Beautiful. It's a message that we all need to be reminded of. And, often!

      Saturday, November 05, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 4

      "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."
      -Oprah Winfrey

      How fitting that yesterday's theme was "early morning"! Although not our usual routine, Rob and I certainly had an early morning. We woke up at 3 am for the opening celebration of the new Greenville REI. We sat in line in front of the store in the cold and the rain, waiting for the 10:00 opening.

      It was worth it though because I won a doorprize (free Vibram FiveFingers shoes!), and we each got a free CamelBak waterbottle and $5 REI giftcard.

      Although I decided not worth it to go again this morning. Rob and Thomas, however, did.

      Thursday, November 03, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 3

      "Each day comes bearing its own gifts.  Untie the ribbons."
      -Ruth Ann Schabacker

      Usually we're captivated by what's inside the packaging, today I took a second look at the organic forms of the discarded bubble wrap. [The present from my sister-in-law wasn't bad either :) ]

      Wednesday, November 02, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 2

      "O bed! O bed! delicious bed! That heaven upon earth to the weary head."
      -Thomas Hood

      When I read the Picture Fall prompt first thing this morning, I grieved over all of my comfy and stylish furniture that's still sitting in my house in Georgia. How could I take a photo of our ugly futon couch or our ghetto air mattresses on the floor? I spent two minutes in a pity party for myself and our makeshift living situation. Then I knew it was time to get out of bed... and, I argued with myself... can't I just stay here for a few more minutes?

      Whack! I got walloped on my head with a big dose of gratitude... wrapped in the blankets with my head on the pillow, I always feel so cozy, so warm, so safe. Even in the midst of the chaotic and less-than-perfect, I am surrounded by blessings.

      What's the last time you realized you were given blessings in disguise?

      Tuesday, November 01, 2011

      Picture Fall: Day 1

      "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
      -Albert Camus

      My mom and I are taking the Picture Fall class from Big Picture Classes. I'm looking forward to appreciating this season to the fullest. 

      I love the sound of crunchy leaves. Do you also go out of the way to step on the fallen ones?

      Almost camping...

      "Camping: nature's way of promoting the motel industry."
      -Dave Barry

      Friday night, Rob got off work early so that we could head up to North Carolina to go camping. After packing up the car (gosh... it takes a lot of gear to go camping!), we were on the road with plenty of time to arrive before the gates closed at 8.

      We arrived at the given address about 7:20, only to find a dark and completely empty parking lot. Apparently we were not in the right place. Luckily I had printed out the park maps, so I could direct us to the other campsite. The estimated time of arrival on the GPS was 7:59 pm. However, in the dark and fog, it was not easy to drive fast. We breathed a sigh of relief when we drove through the open gates.

      However, due to car trouble (luckily not ours!) and scary weather reports (roads were already being closed due to ice!), we decided to take our camping trip back to Ricky and Heather's house in Hickory. We put up our tents in their basement. With a heater, real bathrooms, and a TV to watch college football, we had ourselves a much more comfortable camping trip.

      On Saturday we made the executive decision to play outside, so we headed to a local corn maze. After our lengthy orientation to the maze, it was our turn to get "corn-fused." This was quite a difficult maze, and we were proud of ourselves for making it out in just over an hour and thirty minutes.

      Thursday, October 27, 2011

      Good distractions...

      "Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us."
      -Oscar Wilde

      Yesterday Rob and I brought two more carfuls of stuff up from our house. Everything else was supposed to get packed and moved into storage, however, long story short, that did not happen. Suffice it to say that we will not be closing on our house tomorrow... instead, it's back on the market. (Wanna buy a house?)

      Knowing that we will probably be in this apartment longer than originally anticipated, I spent today organizing closets, winter clothes, and all of the other treasures we brought back with us. As usual, I got a little distracted when I got to the bag full of scrapbooks.

      My scrapbooks go back to sixth grade, and it brings back such a flood of memories to flip through the pages. Here are a couple of favorites...

      If you look close, some of you may recognize yourselves in the photos...

      Monday, October 24, 2011

      A Sunday afternoon...

      "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I used everything you gave me."
      -Erma Bombeck

      • Pitching our new tent in the living room... practicing before we have to set it up (for real!) in the dark this weekend. 
      • Gluing together cupcake toothpicks for the Epworth Craft Fair.
      • Simmering meat on the stove for Natchitoches Meat Pies.
      • Admiring my freelance work, a last-minute ad in the Spartanburg Journal-Herald.
      • Another evening of house hunting... fingers crossed that we saw our future home.

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