Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Presents on a Budget

Christmas can be such a crazy time of year- all the parties, decorating, caroling in the streets (do people still do that?). It can also be very expensive! While giving gifts can be fun and exciting, I certainly don't think you need to spend a ton of money to wow someone with a gift- especially since we often buy people things they don't necessarily want or need. They end up with a house full of useless trinkets, and you end up with an empty wallet. Not really the fun season of giving, is it?

I thought today, on the EVE of official Christmas season (but let's face it, it's been Christmas season on this blog since mid-November) I would share some cheap and thoughtful gifts for family and friends! All of these gifts are easy to personalize to people's tastes and you can add your own labels, stamps, etc to make it look unique!

1. Homemade Sugar Scrubs

Look at how cute these are! I got this recipe off letbirdzfly and lemme tell you, I hit the jackpot on that blog! She did a total DIY Christmas last year! Imagine how sweet these would look with personalized labels?

2. Homemade Ornaments
I had a cousin who handpainted ornaments for everyone in the family one year. They were so beautiful and unique and I still enjoy hanging them on the tree each year. I love ornaments with history and love in them, and I am sure your family and friends do too! In this photo, the person cut up a wedding invitation into strips and then put them into a clear bulb and gave it to the new bride and groom. Isn't that sweet? I am sure that is something they will treasure for years and this certainly wasn't expensive! Clear ornaments are great for stuffing with all sorts of sweet things! Or you could handmake some ornaments....maybe felt owls?

3. Homemade sauces/jams/spices/salsas
Is it delicious? Can you make it at home? Does it fit into a jar? BAM- good Christmas present! You can even make a variety of sauces and jar them into a smaller jars and give them as gift baskets to multiple people! Since most people eat (as far as I am aware) this is not a gift that will go to waste! This is also another gift that you can personalize for the giftee with a pretty homemade label.

4. Kniting/crocheting/sewing

Are you crafty in some way? Why not handmake a scarf or a hat for someone? You can often get materials on sale and people will appreciate the effort you have put into their gift! However, you have to be a pretty fast scarf above has been taking me months and it still is not long enough to warm anyone's neck! It might not make it under anyone's tree this year!

5. Food!

Everyone likes food! Gimme a bowl of cookies for Christmas and I will high five you and love you forever! Same goes for fudges, cakes, squares, and all sorts of other goodies

6. Teas or a Hot Chocolate Kit
You can find instructions for making your own Chai Tea here. Or maybe you can put some hot chocolate powder into a sweet jar with marshmallows thrown in for fun!

7. A Picture Book

Websites like Blurb allow you to make seamless photograph books at home, but you can also have these made at places like Walmart. Or you can print your own photos and go traditional with an old fashioned photobook. These are surprisingly affordable and worth looking into!

8. Homemade Playdough
Got a little person on your list this year? Why go and spend hundreds of dollars on toys that will probably break? How about making some colourful playdough! Maybe then the little kid will make YOU a gift with it! Who wouldn't want a lumpy pink kitty cat?!

9. Do a little DIY!
Maybe your spouse has been going and on about how they want to get some projects done around the house. Why not surprise them by fixing up a few things while they are out? I sure wouldn't mind if a design fairy came by and retiled my bathroom for me!! Plus, fixing it yourself can save a lot of money vs. hiring out.

10. Coupon Books!
Ah, the classic free gift! But it doesn't have to be the predictable "back rub" coupon for a loved one. You can offer to bring over a homecooked meal and babysit the kids so mom and dad can have a romantic dinner at home. Or maybe you can offer some man hours to help with a renovation or move. Time is a very valuable thing and these types of gifts can often be the most thoughtful.

'Tis the season of giving, right? I think that includes giving ourselves to each other: heart, mind, and body. Not just our wallets!

Let me know if you have any other great ideas for homemade gifts!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

DCP Update

Well I am one month into my DCP Treatment so I thought I'd give a quick update into how it is going. The answer is- not at all! Basically with the treatment you get this stuff applied to your head that will cause an allergic reaction. Every week they increase the dosage of the treatment until you get the appropriate reaction (which, from what I have heard is a lot of uncomfortable itching). This week I am going in for my 5th week of treatment and I think this may be the time that I actually get a reaction, because the guy ahead of me got a bad one at this level and I heard him asking the doctor what to do if it gets bad again. JOY.

It is really weird to HOPE to be uncomfortable and itchy. But if I don't get a reaction, what the heck is the point of missing work every week for this treatment?

In other news, Tuesday happened to have been the 12 year anniversary of finding my first bald spot. It is crazy to think that it has been 12 whole years of having this disease. I often forget what it was like when I had hair. If I think really hard I can remember the feeling of a pony tail or braid in my hair...but really my reality has changed so much. A lot of people who know me recently might not know that I wasn't BORN with this. I had completely normal hair until Nov 27th 2000. I did nothing to start losing my hair. It just randomly happened and I have had to learn to adapt.

Here is the thing. I am who I am. I have this disease and it makes me very different from the other people in the my day to day life. However I think that everyone is different in some way. My way is just more obvious. I mean, besides my awesome personality. :)

You really can't stop life and feel sad just because something crappy happens to you. Because crappy things are always going to happen. Maybe it won't be your hair falling out. Maybe it is a bad financial decision, losing your job, getting sick. Who knows.

"It is not the winds we control, but our sails"

I don't know who said that originally, but the words still ring true. You cannot change what happens, only how you react to it!

So that is my random Thursday ramble and my random Thursday advice. Hopefully today when I leave work early to travel 1 hour on the TTC to my appointment, I will think less about the inconvenience and more about how lucky I am to be part of this trial, to have my health, to have amazing family and friends, and basically all the other wonderful things in my life.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Like It, Love It, Loathe It

Welcome to the first edition of "Like it, Love it, Loathe it"! I have decided to start showcasing some of the awesome, and not so awesome, things I come across on a day to day basis.

Let's Begin!

Like It:

This pillow from Structube

I saw this throw pillow on sale at Structube for $9. $9!!!! And I happen to have a father who has light blue walls and a burgundy leather couch in his newly renovated basement. I thought these pillows would look amazing down there. I even sent him the photo to see if he agreed and he did- which is probably the first time we agreed on a design aspect of his new basement. But then I went to Structube and they didn't have any :( The only location that had them in stock was in Oakville, and I ain't going all the way out of town to buy pillows. I wish Structube had their stock information online or let you buy online so I didn't have to walk through to cold only to have my heart broken. If you are in Oakville, I definitely recommend getting this pillow before they sell out!

Love It:

This project by 4 Men 1 Lady

I love this stencil! Think how awesome it would look in my hallway...if I ever cared to paint over my chalkboard wall, which I don't. What I really love about this project is that Michelle actually had this stencil on another wall, and she had stripes painted in this area. But she changed her mind and thought it would look better here. So she painted over the original wall, sanded this stairwell like crazy to get ride of the stripes (the paint left marks at the edges of each stripe) and then primed and stenciled all this. By herself. On a ladder. Over stairs.

That just takes guts, and the results look amazing. I think it takes a brave person to decide that even after putting sooo much work into a project, like the original stencil or painting the stripes, that in the end you aren't happy and you want to redo it. Kudos to you Michelle! Can't wait to see what you do with that freshly painted wall in your living room!

Loathe It:
This one is easy- I cannot stand my iMac at work. 

I am not even sure loathe is a strong enough word. This computer is only a year and a half old and I already need to take it in to the store for the THIRD time. I am pretty much ready to put Apple tech support on my speed dial. I am so thankful that I have a 3 year warranty, and their tech support people are really helpful...but this thing is just a nightmare. When it was only 6 months old I had to get the entire LCD screen replaced because it started flickering and fading on one side.

Now it has this issue of dropping the internet when backing up to the time machine. You know what happens when the internet drops? I can't do any work, I have no email, I have no access to the server, and my backup fails. It is sooo annoying. Every hour when it starts backing up I need to monitor it to quickly turn the Airport (the wireless connection) off and on so the backup won't fail. My only other option is to turn back ups off, which obviously isn't desirable. I brought it in once before to the Apple store but they refused to believe it was doing this because all it's scans are healthy. They wanted me to bring in the Time Machine and sever to test at their store. Clearly I can't do that because then my coworkers can't work. ARG! 

I joke at work that it is like musical chairs. I turn my itunes radio on while I work. When the music stops I know that the internet has dropped so I rush to reset it before the back up fails, and then turn the music back on and start again!

The worst part is that Apple tech support have no idea what could cause this. Our own tech people have no idea what could cause this. And it only happens on my computer. It is a mystery!

Last time I called Apple the guy said 100% bring it in and don't leave until they take it for repairs. But then I am out a computer for a few days. AGAIN. Maybe even longer since they don't know what the problem is. Plus I have to wait for work to get quiet so that it won't be disruptive to not have a computer. Buuuut....if it is quiet AND I don't have a computer I am going to be bored. I might even have to resort to doing the F word....filing... *shudder*.

So that is today's Like it, Love it, Loathe it. What are you feeling/not feeling these days? Anyone else not happy with their Mac? I feel like I am the only Mac-hater out there. haha   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let's Shelve that Idea

So just two weeks ago, I tried to reorganize my shelves in the kitchen. But you know what? It still didn't really work for me. Mostly because my cookie cutters still didn't fit and I felt that the shelves always looked for cluttered!

Therefore it was time for some re-tweaking! That is always the fun when it comes to designing the look of your home- seeing what works and what doesn't and slowly getting to the right outcome.

Before my shelves looked like this:

And now it looks like this!

I decided that the original glasses were too cluttered, because they didn't match, so they got moved into a cupboard and I moved my baking supplies out to these shelves! I would have liked to have had the cook books on the lower shelf, but they are too tall for that shelf. Ah well...there is always a snag to the perfect plan :)

I got the jars from Walmart. The large ones were $9 and the smaller ones $5. The large ones hold cookie cutters (and they ALL fit with room to spare now) and flour. The smaller ones are sugar and brown sugar! The larger ones do not have an airtight seal, but I think flour will be fine in there- my condo has no air problems.

In the box is all the cooking bits from this post and the white and black tin is tea. Otherwise I just pulled my glasses out of my cupboard because they look nice and clean here. I know you shouldn't store glasses like this because they get dusty, so I will probably flip them over.

Here are some more shots. I sooo prefer the clean look going on up here to the jumbled look from before.

What do you think? I'm thinking of redoing the wallpaper back in there to something darker to set off the glass and white.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Adobe Lightroom

If you remember, back in July I talked about a new course I was going to take in Adobe Lightroom at the Ontario College of Art and Design. I finally finished the course this weekend! That means I can now apply for my Certificate of Digital Media Skills from the college! Yay!

The course itself was amazing and I totally recommend it to anyone in the city looking to improve their photo editing skills. It was $200 and lasted 4 weeks. The lessons were rather short (about an hour or two a week) and then plenty of time for practice in class. This was the first class in Lightroom that they offered and it was small- only 6 people signed up! But for me that meant lots of opportunity to ask questions and more one-on-one time.

As for the program, I LOVE Lightroom. It is just a fabulous option for someone who isn't looking to become a Photoshop star, but would like to be able to lightly edit their photographs (for perhaps a certain blog?). The software is about $150, so it is loads cheaper than buying Photoshop and because I was a student at the school, I was able to buy it from the student bookstore for $96 with tax. Woohoo!

Now, back to my love of Lightroom. The program is amazing because it is so much simpler than Photoshop and it allows you to MASS EDIT. I mean, hello? You've all seen the terrible light in my condo that requires mass light adjustments once I upload them to my computer. With Lightroom, you can select all your photos and click "auto white balance" and shazzam- all at them seem more normal. Then I can mass "warm" them to make the colour look more normal and less blue.

Another bonus that I enjoy is that you can look at two photos side by side and see which looks better. Like, if you took 10 photos of something while adjusting your camera, you can flip through those 10 by putting two side by side and seeing which one turned out best! Plus Lightroom remembers the settings on your camera so you can go back if you are shooting in that light again (what f-stop did I have? etc).

I also like being able to put metadata into my photos with my copyright so I don't have to worry about people stealing my photos. AND it makes putting watermarks on easy!

Anyway, I am not pro in showing anyone how to use the software, especially since I am still learning as I go. But if you are interested in Lightroom for yourself, please click on the link below for some great tutorials. You can also download a trial version of Adobe Lightroom on their website.

Tutorial Videos Click Here

Adobe Lightroom Trial Click Here

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tips: How to Leave Comments on Blogger

I love when people leave me comments, but lately I have been noticing a lot of you being creative in how you leave your comments (or I am very popular with someone named anonymous) so I have decided to do a quick breakdown in how to leave comments in Blogger

First, write your lovely comment to me! The click on the drop down menu and you will see the following options:
- LiveJournal
- Wordpress
- TypePad
- Open ID
- Name/URL
- Anonymous

Now the first five you need accounts for. If you have an account with any of those sites, you can use that option to log into your profile and leave me a comment! I think it will also link to your website if you do that, but I don't have one of those types of accounts.

Now the MAJORITY of you use Anonymous. And I really don't mind because you often leave your name in the comment so I know who to send the love back to. But I want to point out that you can use Name/URL and leave the URL blank! That way your name will show up to me as having left a comment! If you have a URL you would like to have your name link to, please enter it in so I can go visit your site too.

I have been kind enough to remove Captcha from my comments, in case that kept you away from commenting in the early days of this blog. That stuff needs NASA scientists to figure out and Blogger has a pretty good built in spam control. Plus I monitor all the comments anyway.

I know there are other commenting programs I can install, but the Blogger one is basic enough and I have experienced a lot of problems on other blogs trying to log into things and comment. I just like to keep it simple and know who is visiting and if they have a site too!

Anyway, I just thought I would leave those tips for you guys! Thanks for leaving me comments :)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How to Fix a Broken Light

Every time a light goes out or breaks on my tree (LED lights just look weird to my dad and I so we haven't made the switch) I keep waiting for a friendly Grinch Santa to come by and take it to fix it at the North Pole, like that nice one did for Cindy Lou Who in that movie. ;)

However the living room has remained totally Grinchless for years, so I had to learn how to fix the bulb myself. Now, the obvious lazy man fix is to move the disobedient bulb to the back of the tree or just replace it with a spare bulb. But what do you do when you want to replace it and you don't have any spare bulbs that have the same base? Throw out the whole string of lights and scream in agony?

Nope. I have a fix!

I run into this problem often with the little angels on our family tree.
Each angel is holding a tiny light bulb that is supposed to light, but this year one of them wouldn't turn on (well, 2 didn't, but one has been broken for years). However these angel lights have a specific white base that does not match the ones on the strands of lights, so I can't just switch it out.

Here is what you do:

1. Take the old bulb and a new one and bend the copper wires that you see on the bottom until they are straight. Be gentle because they break easily!

2. Remove each "bulb" from the base and switch them to the other base (well, technically you can just throw out the other base and bulb, but if you were swapping two colours this would work)

3. Make sure the two wires come out through the two small holes on the bottom. This can be tricky as the holes are small. Just make sure your wires are straight and keep trying.

4. Once in, bend the wires so they run up the side of the new base.

5. Install in the strand and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Decorate a Fake Christmas Tree

I hate calling my plastic tree a "fake" tree. It needs fancier name. Like...spurious tree or imitation coniferous holiday structure. That way it is just a different product, not a fake copy of the real deal. Don't get me wrong, I like me a real tree, but there are a lot of benefits to fake trees versus real ones and when you need to put up 5 different trees every season you really start to appreciate those benefits. Such benefits include being able to move the branches, bending the tips to secure heavy ornaments, and no watering. However I do love the look, feel, and smell of a real tree. It is a personal decision!

Anyway, I thought I would cover a little tutorial on the best way to decorate your fake tree imitation coniferous holiday structure. Believe it or not, there are different ways to approach this and over the years I have learned a few tips to making the tree look better.

Before I start- I think I will cover some good tree-taking-down tips that make tree-putting-up easier. Be sure to keep similar branches together so it is easy to sort. My dad also keeps each light string in its own plastic bag IN the tree box, along with the skirt and extension cord. Everything I need is there and neat! Every year I also say I am going to paint the ends of the darn branches since all the labels have fallen off (like in a ROY G. BIV pattern!) but I never do. sigh.

OH- actual step one: turn on Christmas music. key step!

1. Clear out a corner and plug in your extension cord. It helps to have a cord with a giant button on it so that you can turn the entire tree off with the touch of your foot. No one likes the crawl behind the tree to get to the outlet. I clearly didn't even bother cleaning the floor (there was furniture here) before installing my tree (sorry Dad). I am real y'all.

2. Build your base and lay out your skirt. It is so much easier to get the skirt on if you do it first!

3. Install poles and wrap an extension cord up for your tree topper (if needed). One of our trees uses blinking lights so they don't connect together and therefore there is no plug near the top. Winding a cord up makes that final touch of the topper so much easier!

4. Fluff, Place, Lights. I like to fluff each piece by hand before I install it in the base. The more you fluff, the fuller and more realistic your tree with look. I also wind the lights around as I go (our trees are way older than pre-lit ones!). I like to do an outer light layer and an inner one, which gives the tree more sparkle and hides a lot of the light cords. Oh I should mention here that if you have blinking lights, do them after. They need to be evenly distributed along the height of the tree so that one whole section isn't doing a different blinking pattern for another. This is one reason why I appreciate a hand-built tree versus one of those ones that has the branches installed. Plus we have one of those "easy set up ones" with the branches attached and SO many branches have broken and just need to placed in. Plus when you can build the tree, you can switch some branches in the back for smaller ones- that way your tree fits into a corner better!

5. Continue building! If you have some bulbs missing due to plug in decorations (like our angels) then plug them in now. You can always switch out where the angels are later, but it is dang hard to find those empty spots if you put it on the tree first. Once completed, stand back and squint your eyes. This will help you see empty spots on the tree and you can adjust your lights so everything is spread evenly.

6. Through the magic of the internet, or perhaps by enlisting a friend, decorate the tree! Begin with any garland or beads. Then do large items, or your favourites, and give them prominent spots. Be sure to put non-breakables near the bottom if you have pets or small children (our cats don't bother the tree, but you could try a citrus scent or critter away stuff around the skirt). Also, try to not group similar colours together. Spread them out! I am also a "back decorator" because I believe a tree sure look good from all angles. I also like to stick ornaments deep into the branches.

There you go! A beautiful well decorated tree!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Mardi Gras Christmas Tree Reveal

I often get asked "Casey, what makes you so awesome?". Well people, it is not in what you say, but what you do. Last week I said I was going to make a Mardi Gras themed Christmas tree and gosh darn it that is what I did!

I tried to find examples of a Mardi Gras themed tree on Pinterest and Google, but all I found were a couple of trees with masks on them. Not really my thing. I knew once I picked up those peacock themed ornaments that I wanted to allude to Mardi Gras with feathers, birds, and bright colours!

I had been to a few big box stores like Loblaws and Home Depot to try and find decorations, but I only found traditional colours and themes. But then I hit the jackpot at Walmart! They had so many perfect decorations that I actually had to put some BACK. I  had some ideas for my theme if decorations couldn't be found, like making my own with paint or colourful feathers in clear ornaments. But I never even found clear ornaments. So you know what, I didn't DIY my tree (bad blogger) but I did build a tree that I love and that will hopefully last me many years!

I present to you, my awesome tree.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what I have under my tree, since Santa doesn't come to my condo, it is Myrtle the Turtle! She is enjoying napping on my throw blanket from Chapters.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Just call me a Villager!

I have been building Christmas villages since I was knee high to a grasshopper. It all started some years about when my dad found a "Rudolph" village ad in a catalog that had about 6 houses themed around the old Rudolph classic. He bought the set, and we soon learned that they were quite happy to keep charging your credit card and sending you new houses every year! I think this year we hit 43, but dad said he hasn't seen one in a couple of years so we might finally be done (and he isn't calling them to find out).

It has become tradition that this is the first thing we put up every year! The room it is in changes (we like to keep it behind closed door because of the cats) and of course the size of the table has grown each year as more houses have been added. It used to live on a pingpong table in my brother's old bedroom, but this year we decided to set it up in the newly renovated model train room, since it was conveniently empty from the reno and there was plenty of room! We used a bunch of folding tables to create an easier-to-set-up layout.

Here is a rundown on how I think a village should be set up!

1. Lay out tables in desired arrangement

2. Cover tables in table cloths. We do this to help diminish the sight of the cords running down the back.
3. Cover tables with foam pieces, leaving gaps to run the cords through. This is actually quite useful to create little gaps to run the cords in when you need to run from the other side of the table.

4. Cover the table in sparky rolls of cotton! At least I think this is cotton? It is supposed to be like fake snow and there are sparkles in it (works well for a magical town!). Then layout your train track for the village and unpack the houses. And be sure to forget photos of those steps. haha.

Model railroading is in my blood (thanks dad), but I did learn that my original track layout that made a kind of figure eight would lead to a short in the track. Oops! Thankfully dad caught it early and showed me why it couldn't be done, so I switched to a simple giant loop. I also like to sort the houses by "types" as I unpack (residences, restaurants, shops, various industry). That way when I design the layout of the town it can be somewhat logical, with shops and food appropriately spread around town.

Oh and for what I mean by unpack, here are all the styrofoam boxes for this set! They used to live in my brother's old closet, but now they have a storage spot in the reno'd basement. My dad also labeled all the tops and bottoms of the boxes with what house goes in it to make packing it up much much easier.

5. Lay er out!

6. String the lights in! Each house has a single bulb on a cord. My dad once found these great extension cords that has 9 outlets spaced out along the cord in groups of three (imagine a regular extension cord that has another cord with another end coming out the end). I plug everything into an extension cord with a button and connect them all together, laying evenly out. This means the whole village (including the train- which we never found while I was there) turns on and off with a quick switch!. As for installing the lights, I run the bulb under the sparkly white sheet and rip a hole (it rips easy) under the house. It is time consuming, but looks amazing if you can hide all the cords.

7. Add all the people! Ah, you have come to the end! Now I just add in a few sparkly trees that we bought separately and then I add in the hundreds of tiny figurines that come with the set. I have included a few shots of my favourites too!!
Mistletoe on the antler! too cute

Two elves trying to impress a lady

Practicing flying! The pole height is adjustable

The train station

The band playing in front of the Music Academy!

And to show you just how much this thing has grown, here is the layout from 2007

Dang, where was the plate of cookies this year??

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