12 Days of Blogmas: Golden Memories

Just for Fun

Today we’re visiting with the ghosts of Christmases past today on the 12 Days of Blogmas.

1979892_10101414172064854_7744281058639567229_nChristmas Stockings

When I was younger (ages 3-6 or so) we lived at my grandmother’s house. There was a rule that I couldn’t wake up the grown-ups on Christmas morning but I could go and get my stocking off the banister and play with whatever was inside while I waited for them. The one Christmas that really stands out in that house, I remember getting up when the house was quiet, getting my stocking, and bringing it back to bed (with my Bambi blanket with the white fringe). On the top of my stocking was an envelope with my name on it and inside were a couple sets of plastic barrettes. I don’t remember what else was in there (though there was probably an orange in the toe–does anyone else have that tradition, too?), but I remember the barrettes.

When I mentioned this to Aunt M a few years back, she told me that she was the one responsible for getting those stockings made and hung up each year; I learned something new!

There’s also a story about the banister, itself. See, this was my grandmother’s dream home and she was adamant that it would be single story. But my grandfather, apparently, couldn’t pass up a good deal, and as he was driving through town they were tearing down a bank and this sweeping staircase was just sitting there. So he bought it and had it hauled to their property and added to the house. It was a very impressive staircase that went up to two, small attic rooms that were never really meant to be. Aunt M used one as a study area when she was still in school and my little cousins used one of the rooms as a bedroom when they stayed there.

I like to think that I’d do the same as my grandfather… it’s a shame to let good architectural salvage go to waste.

* * *

The Great Rum Ball Caper

Another memory from that same time period involves holiday baking. I was too young to really help with all the older cousins, aunts, and everyone in the kitchen, but I could watch from the kitchen table as they make cookies, date loaf, candies, and–my favorite–rum balls. I was allowed one or two when they were made but then they were put away into a stainless steel canister and placed in the pantry.

I was not, apparently, content to settle for the rum balls I was previously allotted, so I took matters into my own hands. At some point later Mom found me, in the dark, walk-in pantry, with the canister of rum balls in my lap as I munched away.

I remember this every time I make rum balls at home.

* * *

Cabbage Patch Madness

Oh, man, when Cabbage Patch kids first came out they were the Tickle Me Elmo of our generation (or, well, Tickle Me Elmo was the Cabbage Patch Kids of the next generation, since they came first, but you know what I mean). They were the It Toy and sold out as soon as they arrived in stores. And, of course, I wanted one just like every girl my age. I remember going to Service Merchandise (does anyone else remember that store?) and seeing the barest aisles where the CPK were supposed to be.

That year was one of the few we went back to Louisiana for Christmas, to visit Mom’s family. And I remember many things from that trip: the sleepover with the distant cousins while they gossiped about Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton; the dance party that my uncle filmed on his Camcorder with various cousins doing the worm, the snake, and the highly questionable dance that simulated cracking an egg on one’s head (and, yes, that video got trotted out every time we’d go home to visit for years); and the grown-ups making us little ones Shirley Temples while they had their beer and cocktails in the other room.

And, of course, I remember getting up on Christmas morning and seeing Cabbage Patch Kids under the tree. It was the first time I’d seen Santa gifts left unwrapped and on display.

My first Cabbage Patch had green eyes and orange hair and was named Eva Eleanor. My cousins had entire nurseries full of CBK, I topped out at two, but I was still giddy to visit the Cabbage Patch Museum in northern Georgia in 2006 when we were nearby visiting friends. (They gave our CPKs Visitor name badges–probably to make sure they didn’t try to charge us when we left, lol.)

* * *

Walking on Thin Ice

One year Mom wanted to get my brothers a swing set for Christmas, but she wanted it to just magically appear in the yard, all put together on Christmas morning. So she had a neighbor put it together in their yard and the plan was that we’d go over and get it after the boys went to bed on Christmas Eve.

That was one of the coldest Christmases I can remember. There was ice on the ground and the steel of the swing set was bitterly cold. But we “walked” the set across three yards, trying not to slip and bust our asses on the ice, in pajamas and robes, in the middle of the night.

Granted, the swing set still couldn’t be played on until holes were dug for the legs and concrete anchors poured, but we pulled off the surprise.

* * *

Bricks Instead of Coal

Growing up it was always Mom who took care of stocking stuffers and, in past relationships, I would take over buying little things for the stockings for others as well as myself. By the time Todd and I got together I’d gotten better at asking for what I wanted as opposed to just waiting for someone to read my mind and step up, so I asked that we include the stockings as part of our Christmas gifts–that he would fill mine and I would fill his. And Todd was cool with that.

(See, folks, when you communicate things get a lot simpler!)

One year in particular we both went a little overboard with the stocking stuffers to the point that the stocking were pulling over the weighted stocking hangers sitting on the mantle. We would each sneak into the living room at different times to fill the stockings and I’d already had to grab a brick from the yard (which I wrapped in foil to make it, uh, festive) to keep Todd’s from tipping over when I heard him having the same sort of trouble from the other room!

It always amuses me when we end up on the same page–be it both wanting froyo on the same night or over-stuffing the stockings the same year.

The 12 Days of Blogmas is a link-up hosted by The Coastie Couple and The Petite Mrs. Check out either of their blogs to see what everyone else has to say on today’s topic!

The 12 Days of Blogmas is a link-up hosted by The Coastie Couple and The Petite Mrs. Check out either of their blogs to see what everyone else has to say on today’s topic!


Why Templates Are a Girl’s Best Friend

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

I’m a scrapbooker from way back, but I haven’t been keeping up like I used to or taking many photos that don’t correspond to a blog post. To commemorate this last year before the wedding (and remind me to take pictures of the fun stuff), I’ve been putting together a layout per week for our Wedding Year scrapbook. Now, working full time, planning a wedding, and blogging about it are enough to keep me plenty busy–adding in scrapbooking might seem like adding more work rather than some much-needed relaxation.

For me, it all comes down to 3 things:

  • Digital scrapbooking
  • Project Life
  • Templates

The Digital Approach

While I do absolutely love paper and creating with it, physical scrapbooking was becoming less and less convenient with all of my photos being digital for the last several years. That love of paper that had me scoffing at digital scrapbooking 1o years ago has since enthusiastically embraced the digital approach for both the ease of integrating my digital images but also the fact that once a digital paper or embellishment is purchased, it doesn’t get “used up.” As someone who has more than once hoarded those last few sheets of a favorite paper, this is quite freeing.

And you can always print your pages out yourself or upload them to a photobook site and end up with very professional looking albums.

Just about any photo software that will handle layers can be used for digital scrapbooking and there are some programs out there specifically for it. I learned on Photoshop Elements (PSE) 3, “back in the day” with tutorials from ScrapGirls. While I’ve upgraded to full-on Photoshop for other projects, I still use PSE (version 9, now) for scrapping for the simpler interface.

Project Life

Project Life is a system devised by Becky Higgins that is meant to make saving photos and memories easy, streamlined, and low-pressure (though it’s but one of many pocket-style scrapbooking systems out there). By using divided pocket pages–like baseball card pages but more varied–and 2 sizes of inserts (4×6 and 3×4) all you have to do is slip in your photos and write on the journaling cards and you’ve got a scrapbook in no time flat.

I’d heard about it a couple years ago (and mentally kicked myself for not trying out a similar idea many years prior) but didn’t want to go back to paper scrapping. Behold, the official Project Life digital kits are available at ACDigitals.com (though I bought my kit and template when they were still partnered with Jessica Sprague). What’s even better is that with the popularity of Project Life on the rise, several sites have similar products available. ScrapGirls has their Pocket Life line, and several designers over on The DigiChick (my 2 favorite shops) have Project 52 offerings that are compatible.

Of course, with digital scrapbooking, anything can be used with the Project Life base system, especially if you use the templates.


Just like writers who stare at a blank page/screen, feel anxious and can’t start writing, scrappers sometimes have a similar block. Recently I’ve become a total template convert as all I have to do is pick my photos, papers, and maybe a few embellishments and start clipping them to the template layers and, boom, there’s my page! Of course, when you scrap digitally you can turn and flip the templates to get a bit more variety (there are only 7 basic page layouts with Project Life, but you can certainly branch out to other templates, too).

But the Project Life-style templates, based on 4×6 and 3×4 spaces, are perfectly suited to both digital camera images as well as those cell phone shots we’ve all been taking. And if you take a lot of photos, then the simple grids are going to be your best friends.

To show you just how easy it is, I took screenshots while I put together this layout, week 9 of our wedding year album:

Week 9, Dec 29, 2012 to Jan 4, 2013

Week 9, Dec 29, 2012 to Jan 4, 2013 (all photos personal)

Step 1: choose your photos

First I pick out my photos to see what I’m working with. Lots of photos mean a template with more spots, fewer photos mean bigger spots to take up more space.

Step 2: Pick your templates

Then I look through my templates to see which ones I want to use. In the back in a Project Life template and in front is a template from eNKay Design’s Project 365 line. Then I decided which would be the left side of the layout and which one the right.

Step 3: Start placing your photos

I rotated the 365 layout to get the photo spots in the orientation I wanted them, then added my first photo to fill the large, vertical block on the page, sizing it up to fill the space or maybe a little bigger. Make sure the photo is above the layer you want the photo to fill and clip it (Ctrl+G on a PC, Mac is Cmd+G, I believe) to that layer. This makes the photo (or whatever) show only where the template shape is “active” so it trims it to shape without actually cutting the image, and you can nudge it around to get the best view.

Step 4: Finish putting your photos in place

Place your photos wherever they best fit so you can see how much space you still have to work with.
You can combine different layer elements by merging them, like I did with the 4 3×4 slots in the upper right, then clipping the image to the merged set. It’s a nice little trick when you want to use larger pictures in smaller slots for effect. And it’s so much easier than cutting and corner-rounding 1 picture into 4, right?

Step 5: Save your work!

Right about now is a good time to do a “Save As” and name your file something other than the template name (you don’t want to overwrite your original template files with the changes you make, since you might want to use them in their original form sometime later).

Step 6: Pick out some papers and embellishments

Then I pick out some papers and embellishments to clip to the background and blank template spots

Step 7: Add your papers and embellishments to the pages

Now the fun part! Clip the papers to the template areas and start to place your embellishments on top of them. For efficiency’s sake I like to merge layers and them clip the paper file once, unless I need some of the elements overlapping others. The more layers, the bigger the file size, you know? But embellishments just need to be positioned above the layer you want them to rest on, they usually don’t get clipped (again, this is a bonus of digital–not everything had to fit exactly in the “pockets”).

Step 8: Add journaling spaces

I like using a mix of patterns, but patterns aren’t always great for journaling on, so I use the shape tool to make “clear” areas filled with a lighter version of one of the colors already in the layout (and then added a texture fill to it because I have issues with flat colors). Remove any layers you don’t want in your final layout (like journaling place-holders and title bits).

Step 9: Add the wordy bits and additional embellishments

Use your words! Add journaling to the open areas, titles, and then any additional embellishments to finish out the layout. That’s it!

And that’s just how simple it is.

Whether you’re saving the wedding planning memories, putting together a photo-book of your engagement photos, or even scrapbooking your honeymoon pictures, templates can make the process much smoother. Templates (Project Life or otherwise) are also great for learning composition skills and branching out of your usual style.

So, have I swayed you over to the digital template side of scrapbooks?

Picture This

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Photos are the one thing you take away from this very expensive, very busy day.

Or so the conventional wisdom goes.

And I agree, to a certain extent. The dress? Not going to have many opportunities to wear it again. The food? Eaten. The venue? No longer your own personal playground. The memories? Intangible.

So photos to the rescue. To show you what you didn’t see when you were talking to Uncle Eddie with your back to the rest of the room. To catch those little (sometimes staged) moments between you and your beloved, one of which you can blow up to 16×20 and have printed on canvas for your wall.

Or not.

See, we’re not the hang pictures of ourselves on the wall type of people. We’re not planning to have children, so no generations to pass them down to. And if our respective histories are any indication, we’re not going to pull out the album every anniversary and get all schmoopy over the pictures again.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of the above behaviors, it’s just not us.

For the record, there were 3 separate videos taken of my first wedding and I’ve yet to see even 5 seconds of any of them. Of those wedding photos, the ones I valued most (we had a photographer-friend offer to take the pictures for the cost of the film–which we had developed ourselves) were the random, candid shots of folks at the reception. Mr. Road Trip thinks he might have watched his wedding video with his ex (before she was an ex, obviously) maybe twice in the 10 years they were married? And the photos flipped through about the same.

So when I see starting “investments” of $2500 or more for a local photographer (that being half our total wedding budget), I start thinking that the majority of pro photographers aren’t for us.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not even for a moment trying to say that photographers don’t earn every penny of their fee. Sure, a chunk goes into the physical album (which we do not want included, and I’ve asked several photographers at bridal shows ‘Do you have a package without an album?’ and, with the exception of the one dude with the very nice custom flash drives in their own wooden boxes, they all fluster and bluster about how we can’t possibly NOT want an album), but their time is just as important, and therefore valuable, as my own. They have a business to run and I respect that.

Nor am I whining about how I want stuff I can’t afford and hoping the Universe will hand it to me on a silver platter. Because that’s just it: I’m not lusting after a certain out-of-budget photographer. I don’t have visions of dreamy shots or over-saturated artistic interpretations. And I certainly have no desire to traipse around our venue for 2 hours doing photo after photo of T and I staring dreamily at each other; away from each other; at some indeterminate spot in the distance. Nor do I want a single shot of someone’s hands holding some tiny thing like it’s a fragile baby bird. This is a wedding, not a catalog shoot.

Yes, I want photos. Of us with our friends, of our ceremony, of our friends having fun and laughing and eating and drinking. I see the perfect photographer for us as a personal paparazzi-meets-photojournalist. No avant-garde artistic sensibilities, just an honest representation of the day, however it turns out.

And I’ve got a feeling that’s out there. At a price that won’t strangle what’s left of our budget after the venue, food, drinks, and attire have taken their chunks out. I just have to find it, is all.

So tell me, am I alone in my photography is not the most important thing ever sentiment? 

Reviving an Easter Tradition


When I was a little girl, we lived with my grandmother for a few years before moving several states away from all of our extended family. Of that time, holidays always seem to stand out in my memories. Easter was no exception.

We’d color eggs the night before, making sure that each egg bore the name of a family member and then, before I went to bed, we’d leave the carton with the colored eggs out on the table. In the morning I’d get up, run to the kitchen table and peer up at all the eggs nestled amongst that cellophane Easter grass on a big silver platter.

One year I swear I saw the Easter bunny hopping away down the driveway, but everyone says I just dreamed that.

Well, last fall my aunt–the youngest of my father’s siblings–was in town and we were reminiscing after dinner and this story came up. Turns out my aunt was in possession of said silver platter (Maw-Maw having passed away while I was in high school, many [many] years ago) and a couple of months ago that very platter was FedExed to me at work.

So this year, with friends coming over for Easter dinner (my family was either out of town or otherwise engaged on Sunday), Todd and I revived that tradition by making everyone an egg with their name on it (plus a few more) and, just before they arrived, set them all out on the tray.

Easter Eggs on a family tray

In year’s past I’ve gone to various lengths with egg dying (the year of the plaid-dyed eggs stands out as the most memorable) but this year we went old school–colored dye dots and a wax crayon. Instead of the shredded cellophane, though, I used the edible Easter grass (looks and feels like Styrofoam but is actually pretty tasty)–some things are worth updating!

One of these days we’ll buy a “real” dining room table

With 8 people* for dinner we swapped out our small (yet completely functional) IKEA kitchen table for a folding table and our patio table brought in for extra elbow room. These tables work great but they’re still not wide enough to hold place settings and the serving dishes so the meal was served buffet-style from the kitchen. Except the rolls, those fit on the table.

Brioche Bunny Rolls

To dress up the plain ivory tablecloth and plates, I cut egg-shaped place mats from wallpaper sample books and added mismatched napkins from my magpie-like stash (I buy random cloth napkins when they go on sale and use them as covers for hand-bound journals)–no two anything matched. A mini-“basket” (cocktail cup full of candy) at each place-setting finished the suddenly festive table.

Easter TableThe menu was

(deviled eggs, pimento cheese with celery, chocolate covered matzo, & spinach dip with crackers)

Decorated Deviled Eggs

Andalusian Lamb (come back for the recipe on Thursday)
Roasted Vegetables (red potatoes, rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, carrots and onions)
Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts Salad
Fruit Salad
Brioche Bunny Rolls

Easter Buffet

And one of our guests brought Cheesecake for dessert with a choice of toppings. Everything was delicious (though I still need to tweak the dressing on the broccoli/sprout salad, should I ever make it again).

The kitchen table got moved into the library to hold all the Easter goodies. Frankly, I’d hoped our guests would have taken more candy home with them–we still have quite the sugar haul for just 2 people.

Easter Candy Candy Candy

After dinner we kept on with the traditions (this time, a newer one) and played a round of Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot, snacked on candy and engaged in light-hearted smack talk as we tried to be the last bunny standing with the right carrot. Todd was that bunny.

It was a wonderful afternoon spent in even better company with enough leftovers that we don’t need to cook for at least another day. A win all the way around.

*we were supposed to be 8, but a couple of last-minute cancellations brought us down to only 6


Food safety note: I’m sure (I hope) my family didn’t actually leave the eggs out all night. Most likely they went back in the fridge right after I went to bed and someone got up very early and set them out before I got up. At least I hope so. Even hard-boiled eggs should be refrigerated, folks.

Scents and Sensibility

64 Arts

Have you ever walked into a room and remembered someone or someplace else because of the way your environment smells?

My grandfather’s house had a certain smell. A mix of cigarette smoke, frying oil, the fields outside and pork roast studded with garlic and green onions. Sometimes I’ll catch a whiff of that mixture elsewhere and I’m transported 300 miles back home.

The smell of damp, fresh-cut grass on a Fall evening reminds me of the four years spent in marching band, waiting on the sidelines to take the field for our halftime show. Memories flood in of old friends, the surety that we knew everything, the hindsight that proves we knew nothing.

Old perfumes remind me of the people I wore them for and the person I used to be.

Smell is one of the strongest memory triggers. Those memories can alter our moods based on the emotions our brains associated with them over time. Mood–emotion–has a lot to do with our sense of well-being, our health and our productivity (sniff a fresh-cut grapefruit or lemon–or a bit of their zest–and see if you don’t feel a little more alert).

So, if scents can take us back to our past and affect our present, what effect could they have on our future?

Aromatherapy is, technically, the use of natural plant oils to improve ones mood or physical well-being. A lot of products have aromatherapy claims attached to them, but (among the purists) direct use of essential oils in all natural products is the only way to go.

Now, how you use these oils depends a lot on the purpose of the oil and the oil itself–some are more effective when applied to the skin (but only when mixed with a carrier oil!) and others work better dispersed in the air via a diffuser,  incense or even added to your bathwater.

There are a few cardinal rules to using essential oils:

  1. Never apply them directly to the skin without diluting them–essential oils are concentrated to a point that they could do real damage to your skin on their own. Sweet almond oil is probably the most common carrier oil but grape-seed and even certain types of olive oil also get the job done.
  2. Fragrance oils are (generally) cheap imitations created in labs and don’t give the same benefits from a holistic healing point of view.
  3. Check any warnings of an oil before using. Some essential oils are irritating to the skin even when diluted so are better diffused in the air, instead. Certain essential oils can be problematic to pregnant women and should be avoided. Others are out-and-out toxic. Do your homework and check with your doctor if you know you have allergies or health issues that might be affected by any holistic or homeopathic techniques. In other words: Be Safe!

Which oils or scents to choose is a subject best left to the books and websites dedicated to aromatherapy. In the mean time, here are some common scents and what they are purported to mean or influence whether in essential oil, their natural state or even a candle–who am I to say that if the scent of roses makes you happy and relaxed that a scented candle isn’t going to do the trick?

  • Vanilla: sexual arousal (there was a study that showed more men got frisky around vanilla-scented candles than any other!)
  • Pine: purification (no wonder we smell it in so many cleaning products!), money (almost anything green is linked with cash) and energy (one of those ‘up’ scents)
  • Coffee: stimulates the mind (morning cup as aromatherapy, nice!), heals you make decisions
  • Rose: love (it’s associated with both the planet and the goddess Venus), peace and beauty
  • Orange: purification (citrus is the other biggie in cleaning scents), joy and energy
  • Chamomile: sleep, meditation and peace (how often has someone suggested chamomile tea when you’re nerves are frayed? exactly!)
  • Melon: promotes healing and health (take a deep breath before your next slice of cantaloupe or honeydew to get the full effect)
  • Lavender: love, peace and the conscious mind (it’s a thinking scent, relaxing you into new thoughts and ideas)

What do you think: how important is scent to our well-being, our productivity or our ability to shape our future? Have you ever dabbled in aromatherapy or do you regularly light incense or spritz an atomizer before you begin a yoga practice or get down to work?