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.
- Calendars. Lulu 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.
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:
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.
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.
From 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.
Over the decades, the folks up at The Farm went through several different growing phases. First there was cotton and when that collapsed they were growing various subsidized crops to try and replenish the soil. I remember the hog phase, the sheep phase, the cattle phase and especially the turkey phase. I still have the scars from that one.
During our visits to the farm, it was our chore to feed the chickens and gather eggs, so when the turkeys came along we first thought they were just big chickens. WRONG! Turkeys are mean! At that time we were close to turkey height – giving them the attack advantage. One pecked me in the face – just missing my eye – and leaving a scar that is finally beginning to recede into the wrinkles. We quickly learned to stay out of their way – and carry a stick at all times.
We did learn to appreciate those turkeys when, just before Thanksgiving, a 35-pound fresh turkey packed in dry ice arrived on the bus. This was before the days of UPS and FedEx. Many a package was shipped by bus or Railway Express. In our case, the bus worked faster than most of today’s ground shipping – if you were savvy to the schedules. In small town America of the 1950s and early 60s, the local Greyhound agent and railway agent could schedule a shipment from departure to destination – making each connection to keep the package moving and not stuck in the freight room. It wasn’t unusual that a package from the farm arrived in St. Augustine the next day.
A 35-pound turkey is a sight to behold. It’s also a lot of food for a family of five. It was delicious – the first five or six meals – but started getting monotonous real soon. So, when the 38-pound turkey arrived just before Christmas, we were a little less than overjoyed. We were still eating turkey well into February.
From then on, Mom would serve turkey either at Thanksgiving or at Christmas, but never again at both.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One Christmas while I was still in the Air Force, I came home for what I expected would be a quiet holiday.
There were no young children in the family at that time so our custom was to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve then come home and open our presents after the service. That way we could all sleep in on Christmas day. Midnight mass had become such a huge service at our church that on this particular year they had decided to have a family service earlier in the evening. We chose to attend the early service and enjoyed one of the most joyful celebrations of Christmas we’d ever experienced.
The normal processional was replaced with a telling of the Christmas story frequently interrupted by everyone singing appropriate carols. The first carol was “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and as the congregation sang, the angels – a small mob of pre-schoolers dressed as angels – marched down the aisle. Marching is what they were supposed to be doing, but that was forgotten as soon as they saw mommy or daddy and had to wave or say hi. Once they were all “settled” at the front of the church, the story continued and the next carol brought a group of slightly older children dressed as shepherds. More carols were sung as the oldest children performed the roles of the major characters and the pageant was complete. The actual service then began and the normal rituals were expedited somewhat as the children fidgeted up front. At the appropriate point, they all marched out to change from their costumes and have refreshments while the adults took communion. There was a joyful reunion of parents and children in the churchyard after the service.
As we walked back to the car we noticed a small group of people across the street chatting. One young man stood out because he wore a beret with holes punched through the felt and a strand of small twinkle lights poked through the holes. He had found some source of power and was standing there casually twinkling away. We found this quite amusing.
Back home, we all relaxed around the tree and began opening gifts.
Christmas day was always full of visitors. Neighbors would drop by with gifts – usually delicious baked goods – and we shared bags of citrus fruit from our trees. Christmas dinner was a group effort, but always a relaxed and enjoyable experience. There was time to stop and visit whenever a neighbor or friend dropped by. Our big meal was late afternoon and things were normally cleaned and put away by sunset.
This particular Christmas evening, we were all semi-comatose in front of the evening news when a car pulled into the driveway. It was several young adults Mom had befriended – she was always adopting strays – including the young man with the twinkle lights beret from the night before. Once everyone was introduced and settled, he plugged himself in and was soon twinkling away. It was most festive! Twinkle Lights was actually quite articulate and an interesting addition to the conversation. We were so engrossed that we didn’t notice another car pulling into the driveway until the occupants stepped onto the porch. I looked up to see one of Mom’s friends with her husband and another couple I didn’t recognize. She was staring at Twinkle Lights through the glass front door and I could see the shocked look on her face. You could see that she was considering a quick retreat. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and the group was soon finding Twinkle Lights and his friends as fun and fascinating as we did.
Mom had a gift for bringing disparate groups together and this Christmas evening was just another example. Although this was not a Big Christmas in the sense of large family gatherings or big events, it was very special. Thirty years later the images of those little angels marching down the aisle and the young man with the twinkling beret are still vivid memories.
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
Tiny cornmeal muffins
Braised white onions
Sweet potatoes in orange baskets
Tart jelly – currant, wild grape or wild plum
Dry red wine, Burgundy or claret