Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas is Coming!

Fall is just around the corner and Christmas isn’t far behind. If you’re considering custom-designed Christmas gifts at affordable prices, now’s the time to get started.  Here’s a couple of ideas that make great gifts:

  • Custom note cards.  One Christmas my sister-in-law had 6 sets of notecards (12 cards per set) created from her original photos.  She then re-arranged the cards so each set contained 2 of each photo.  She had them done by Shutterfly at $9.99/set – a small cost to her, but priceless to each of us.  You could use original photos or old family photos for your cards.
  • Framed art.  Jazz up a photo to look older – sepia coloring, jagged edges, whatever – then print it out on tee-shirt transfer paper.  Now, iron it on to gessoed canvas (I was more successful using those canvas boards than a stretched canvas.) for a truly unique piece of art. A digitized copy of a piece of heirloom artwork can be printed on artist-quality watercolor paper or even canvas to make a stunning gift for a special someone.
  • CalendarsLulu has a great calendar-building platform that lets you pull your photos in from just about any of the major photo-sharing sites. Not only can you add your own events – birthdays, anniversaries, special days in your family’s history – but you can put photos into days on your calendar. So, not only can you announce that it’s Cousin Joe’s birthday, you can display his baby picture on that day.
  • Calendar magnets.  A cheap calendar option is to make your own and print it on inkjet magnet sheets.  Use some of those advertising calendars businesses send out as inspiration to create a single 12-month calendar with your own photo/graphic and it will look great on anyone’s frig!
  • Christmas ornaments.  Many of the services mentioned below will make ornaments from your photo or graphic.  Take a lesson from Hallmark and create your own keepsake ornaments each year. These are always precious treasures for Grandma and other family members who are tough to buy for! It could also be the basis for building a unique family tree.

Now you see why we’re talking about this in September.  You’ll need to do some research and it will take some time to get all your photos and designs pulled together.  Then too, you won’t find yourself saving much money if you’re spending megabucks for overnight shipping at the last minute.

grunge portrait

Need some more ideas? You’ll find lots of ideas in my book, The Future of Memories. Download your copy today.

Check out these photo/gift printing services to see which one works best for you:

Tell a Story with a Photo Slideshow

Do you remember the Christmas Tour of Blogs? What a fun project that was! This post is about taking advantage of your photo-editor’s slideshow capabilities to tell a story with pictures and as I was browsing for appropriate photos to use in my example, I stumbled onto my photo “cards” that I used in the tour. So, of course this project gets a Christmas theme!

Just about every photo-editing platform has some form of slideshow feature. If yours doesn’t or it’s too clunky for you, then put your Power Point/Keynote presentation app to work instead. Either way, you can build a fascinating story to share with family and friends. Let’s start by taking a look at the finished slideshow.

Tell a Story with Pictures – The Christmas Tour of Blogs from Moultrie Creek on Vimeo.

There’s no rule stating that a slideshow can only be made from photographs. Why not use your scrapbook skills to create graphic images – which can contain multiple photos – and use them in your project? I’m using iPhoto’s slideshow feature with the Vintage Prints theme. This theme worked best with my portrait-oriented images and it did the least bit of auto-cropping. The background music is Deck the Halls by Richard Freitas – a $1.99 purchase from Vimeo’s Music Store. It’s license lets me use it for public projects such as this without worrying about the DRM-Nazis screaming for my head. The track runs right at 90 seconds so I set the slideshow to time itself with the music. That gives the viewer time to read the captions as well as look at the photos. Once the slideshow was finished, I exported it to video and uploaded it to Vimeo. The entire slideshow part of the project took less than 30 minutes to complete and much of that was experimenting with the various themes to choose the right one for this project.

While the slideshow only took minutes, the cards took a bit longer. They were built in Photoshop Elements. The card background was created using a layer of my red background color, then placing a stylized line graphic over the background and adjusting the graphic layer’s opacity to have it fade into the background. The background was saved as a template file. Photos then had to be selected, each cropped to the same size, placed on the background template and saved as a separate image file. The light colored border around the image gives the look of a beveled edge to the card and the text color matches it. Once each of the cards was finished, it was saved and imported to iPhoto. The toughest part of the original project was cropping and sizing the images to fit in the template.

iPhoto lets me export the slideshow project in sizes ranging from small (fits an iPhone screen) to large (tv and large monitor screens). Nothing says I can’t export multiple copies – each in a different size. I can then email one size, share another on Facebook, post to my family blog or display a larger version on my tv using Apple TV or a Roku box.

Whether simple or complex, a photo slideshow is a great way to tell a story.

Side note: I don’t know about you, but I import a “finished” copy of just about every graphic/scrapbooking project I create into iPhoto. Not only is it inspiration for future projects, but as in this case, it can become the content in a new project.

Blog Caroling – Silent Night

blog carolingFrom 1941 through the First Gulf War, Bob Hope was a Christmas tradition for any household with family members serving in whatever conflict took them away from home. I remember in high school and college watching the audiences looking for people I knew.

Every show ended with Silent Night. It began with one of the entertainers singing the first verse and then everyone joining in. It was always an emotional experience for the entertainers, the audience and those of us watching from home – even looking today.

Here is a look back at Bob Hope’s legacy that ends – as always – with Silent Night.

Calendars Gone Wild

Getting a little tired of calendars for Christmas presents? Blurb has a great way to “kick it up a notch” with their new weekly planner templates. They provide the layouts with monthly and weekly views for 2012 and you just drop your photos in. The result is a 6″ x 9″ bound planner with prices that begin at $24.95.

Monthly plan page

Blurb planner - sample monthly page

All you do is make sure you have the most current version of Blurb’s free BookSmart® software installed on your desktop and build your own book project using the monthly and weekly planner page templates. The monthly page spread includes room for a photo page. A standard planner will be 135 pages, but nothing is keeping you from adding additional pages for notes or journaling. You can also choose how you want it bound – softcover, hardcover with a dust jacket or hardcover with an image wrapped from front to back.

Sample weekly planner layout

Sample view of the weekly planner layout.

Most of the work is already done for you. All you have to do is drop in your monthly photos, edit the title page and create the book’s covers. There’s no rule that says a photo page has to contain a photo. If you have scrapbooking tendencies, you could create a custom layout of multiple photos and journaling to fit within the photo page template’s dimensions. Either way, you’ll wind up with a custom weekly planner that anyone would love. And with Blurb, if you only want to create one planner, that’s all you pay for. Stop by Blurb’s planner page for more details.

Who says it has to be a card?

Pull out your presentation graphics app (Keynote, PowerPoint or Presentations) and build a multimedia Christmas greeting that will knock their socks off. Adapt your annual newsletter into a scrapbook-style review of your family’s year and finish it off with a custom Christmas sentiment.

Is there a new baby in the family? A wedding, anniversary or graduation? Include a slide for each. Let the photos tell most of the story with titles and captions supplying the details. You can even include audio – as a narration or to add a personal greeting. Add some seasonal background music – the Vimeo Music Store has tons of Christmas music – and you’re ready to produce.

Christmas show slide


You can make your Christmas greeting as simple or fancy as you wish. This example uses the Business Pro theme for Keynote created by Jumsoft. I just dropped a couple of photos into the template and added some journaling. I did change the font to a handwriting font (Joe Hand 2) and left the blue color to look like it was written with a fountain pen. At the other end of the spectrum, I could start with a simple white theme and add scrapbook elements like background papers, frames and embellishments along with my photos. Most apps include photo frames, graphic shapes, shading and other tools that can be used to customize your presentation.

Note: If you’re using commercial scrapbook elements, make sure you check the terms of use to be sure your plans for this project don’t violate their terms. Some get a bit touchy if you want to post your work online.

Christmas Show Billboard

Today’s presentation apps offer the ability to export your slideshow to a movie format which can then be uploaded to a movie-sharing site like Vimeo or YouTube. Create a pretty “billboard” graphic for your Christmas movie to use as the link in your email. It’s much more elegant than those long links the card services use in their emails. For those people who don’t have computers or can’t view movies, you can export a PDF version of your presentation to print and mail or email. Even without music or voice-over it will still be an interesting alternative to the basic card.

Make sure you keep a copy of your finished product in your personal archives. Think how precious this glimpse of your family’s life will become for future generations.

Christmas at Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953) was a Pulitzer prize winning author best known for her book, The Yearling. In 1928 she purchased a small farm near Cross Creek in rural Florida. Here is where her writing career took off as she began writing stories based on the people, places and events that surrounded her. In 1942, she published Cross Creek which described her life here. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club choice and a special armed forces edition was sent to the servicemen fighting World War II. She was quite proud of her cooking and described many of her dishes and dinner parties in the book. People reading Cross Creek wanted to know how to make those dishes so Cross Creek Cookery was published soon after. She died in St. Augustine in 1953 from a cerebral hemorrhage. Her home at Cross Creek is now an historic state park.

This is an article she wrote about Christmas at the Creek for American Cookery in 1942:

It seemed to me that my first Christmas at Cross Creek would break my heart. I knew better than to expect snow on Christmas Eve. It was unreasonable to be outraged by a temperature of 75 degrees, hot blazing sunshine and red birds singing lustily instead of Christmas carolers. A half, or is it a fourth, of the world is warm at Christmas time. I had moved to the sub-tropics, and the lush life had become my life. Yet the bland air infuriated me. In pique, I built a great roaring log fire in the living room of the old Florida farmhouse – and was obliged to fling wide all doors and windows. But as I set the table on the sunny veranda for Christmas dinner, the yellow flames in the open fireplace were comforting.

I was further appalled when, at one o’clock, shortly before I was ready to serve dinner, two rural neighbors named Moe and Whitey appeared in clean blue jeans and blue shirts for a visit. I hinted that the family dinner was ready and their expressions grew polite and also acquiescent. Why didn’t they go home? In desperation, I invited them to have dinner with us. To my horror, they accepted. The wreck of the day was complete.

Since then, I have come to love the lazy and casual Florida backwoods Christmas. The function of all such festive days is to give us a sense of cozy hominess, of belonging to something stable and lovely. And it is all a matter of the things to which one is accustomed. Now that Cross Creek is “home”, I should be as infuriated as on that first Christmas day, if snow fell, and sparrows pecked at ice. The red bird’s song is the accepted Christmas paean. And miracle of miracles, we have in abundance our own holly and mistletoe. The Christmas tree is not a symbol in Cracker Florida, but every family breaks mistletoe to hang above the fireplace, and cuts a great bough of holly to stand upright, bright with red berries, in a corner of the pine cabin.

The men, and some of the women, consider Christmas as one of the great days for hunting. That, too, goes back to something solid and important, when men made their living, pioneer fashion, in the woods. The relation of man to nature continues. It is the mode to cook for Christmas dinner whatever the men bring down with their guns. That, too, is stable and is good. I myself consider that game, quail, dove, rabbit, turkey, or venison, is better when aged a bit in the icebox. But in the old days there were no iceboxes, and folks lived and ate from day to day and meal to meal. And having partaken of Christmas dinner in the Big Scrub and in other remote places, I cannot say that fresh-killed meat is any the less delicious. The men have brought it in and the women have cooked it, and an old, good way of life is maintained. The beverage is likely to be Florida “corn”, or moonshine liquor, with, for the more delicate or puritanical women, home-made Scuppernong or blackberry or elderberry wine.

What men hunt for Christmas dinner depends on what game frequents their locale. In the Big Scrub, in Gulf Hammock, in the Florida Everglades, it is wild turkey or deer. At Cross Creek, it is quail or dove or rabbit or wild ducks. On Christmas morning, after the cows have been milked, the wood for kitchen range and fireplaces brought in, “Little Will”, the colored grove men, asks for permission to hunt. I understand why the morning chores have been done so early and so efficiently. Permission is given. This last year, Little Will was gone exactly one hour. He came in with five wild Mallard ducks for Christmas dinner at the tenant house. I questioned him. All through the fall, he had observed, bringing in the cows from the lakeside hammock, that a flock of wild Mallards, was “using” in a little cove on Cross Creek. All Little Will had to do was crouch on the bank and bring down his Christmas dinner. I was, frankly, jealous, having gone to great trouble in far places to shoot wild ducks. Little Will had never mentioned to me the flock at my back door. He was assuring his own Christmas, and quite rightly.

Turkey is not necessarily the main Christmas dish in rural Florida. Unless one can have wild turkey, so many other wild meats are available and more than acceptable. Little Will’s acquisition of wild ducks put an idea in my own head. For some years I have had my own flock of Mallard ducks. They were raised originally from a setting of eggs from the Carolina marshes hatched under one of my game hens. The flock grew in size, until some years I have had as many as seventy ducks. They live and range freely, never leave the orange grove, and their meat is especially flavorsome because of their diet of mash, scratch feed and skimmed milk in addition to their natural foods of greens, frogs and insects. They are fatter and in flavor much sweeter than truly wild ducks, yet less fat and greasy and insipid than market domestic ducks. While I still sometimes have turkey for Christmas dinner, I am more likely to have my Mallard ducks. The day makes a suitable occasion for cutting down their inordinate and expensive numbers. The flock costs as much to feed as two or three mules!

Here is my menu for Christmas duck dinner at Cross Creek:

Baked sherry grapefruit
Roast duck
Wild rice
Giblet gravy
Tiny cornmeal muffins
Braised white onions
Sweet potatoes in orange baskets
Crisp celery
Tart jelly – currant, wild grape or wild plum
Green salad
Dry red wine, Burgundy or claret
Tangerine sherbet

Digital Storytellers: The Christmas Newsletter

One of the great traditions of Christmas is the Christmas newsletter. Sometimes these are printed documents complete with photos. Sometimes its a few handwritten lines stuffed into a Christmas card. Whatever it is, it’s nice to catch up with old friends in faraway places.

Who says the Christmas newsletter has to be a letter? It’s time to stir things up and turn that newsletter into something that won’t be forgotten soon. It’s time for the multimedia Christmas Catch-up!

“What is a Christmas Catch-up?” you ask.

It’s whatever you want it to be. It could be a family group photo with music and an audio Christmas message. It could be a multi-page scrapbook with photos, video and narration. It could be a short movie with photos, video clips and title slides. It could be a PowerPoint slideshow – again with all kinds of multimedia goodness.

Scrapblog, the online scrapbooking platform, makes it easy to create a multimedia scrapbook and share it online. You can add all backgrounds and embellishments found on just about any scrapbook along with photos, video, music and more. Once your Scrapblog scrapbook is finished, you can embed it in your blog/web site or share it on your favorite social network. It costs nothing to use Scrapblog and there’s quite a few free elements available to build your pages. You can also buy pre-designed themes and graphic packs which can be used over and over in different projects. Scrapblog includes some basic photo editing capabilities and can grab photos from most of the big photo-sharing platforms.

As you can see in this [not so holiday] project, telling a story can be a simple, but effective, way to update family and friends this holiday season. Take Scrapblog for a test drive and see for yourself.

Another option is a slideshow posted at slideshare or slideboom (slideboom includes audio). Again, these can be embedded on your blog and shared on social network sites. This beautiful Dutch Christmas greeting is great inspiration.

It’s time to think outside the box. Catch-up with old friends and distant family with a Christmas greeting that will delight, entertain and update them on everything happening on your side of the world.

Family History Christmas Ideas

I’ll bet that there will be a lot of Apple TVs and Roku boxes finding their way under the Christmas tree this year. For family historians, these devices are a great opportunity to “get the word out” in some fun and creative ways.

Here are a few ideas . . .

  • Both devices give you access to YouTube and Flickr. Take advantage of this and produce your own family history photo albums (Flickr) or slideshow documentaries (YouTube).
  • A tradition in our family is the Thanksgiving regatta with the video “premiered” at one of our family Christmas functions. The Roku box makes that a lot easier.
  • The Apple TV, combined with iTunes on your computer, gives you the ability to push photos, music and movies from your desktop to your tv. A photo slideshow with holiday music makes your tv part of the holiday party rather than a distraction.

Need some help to make it happen? Check out my The Future of Memories article in the latest edition of Shades of the Departed Magazine or my earlier Release Your Inner Ken Burns series beginning in the December issue. The toughest part is choosing the photos.

We’re taking family movies to a whole new level!