Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wedding Season 101, Part 1 - PREP

As wedding season approaches and my wedding industry friends begin to hustle and bustle, I thought to share some of the Idea Factory lightbulbs from our own wedding in 2006. This will be a multi-part series of four topics: Prep, Gifts, Decor, and Honeymoon.

Today's topic, PREP, is to help you get organized. Wedding planning is a long process with many facets, and doing it all on your own is daunting, so enlisting a good team and organizing your process is vital. We didn't enlist a wedding planner, but these tips can help you help your wedding planner too if you get one.

Aside from the heavy duty first decisions like size, venue, band, and dress, you're going to have some smaller decisions that are just as important. There aren't many tricks to buckling down and making these decisions, so helping get the little ones sorted first will ease your mind. Here are three ideas to start...

1. Once you decide a location, you should send out your Save-The-Dates. We struggled with what kind of STDs (as we called them, heehee) would be a nice touch and finally went with a flat magnet bottle opener that we could mail that had our date on it. It's nice to still see these on friend's fridges when we visit, so it was definitely an added touch we (and they) still appreciate three years later.

2. Another must for me was to make sure the bridesmaid dresses stayed affordable and were chic enough to use again. I know this sounds incredibly cliche, but I'd been in a couple of weddings before ours, and was slightly appauled at the cost that was assumed in being a bridesmaid. Keeping it simple for them was a priority for me. We finally found a great new option through J.Crew; the dresses were under $100 and were vibrant colors, great flowing fabric that said "wedding" but still said nice-evening-out-reuse to me. (Photo above)

3. Last, enlist your friends that offer help, even if that friend is an author you don't know. As you know, there are so many facets to planning a wedding that it's practically a full time job for the months ahead no matter how many months that actually is. We took our time and set the date for 18 months out once we got engaged, but right away I began to think that too much time actually made the decisions harder. From picking everything out for both a wedding and a reception - colors, invites, locations, reverends, clothing, table shape, food, alcohol, cake, etc - to writing or deciding on vows, remember it's been done before, hundreds of thousands of times!! Sp enlist that network of knowledge whether you want your wedding to be unique or not.

What to ask? Ask your married friends what their favorite unique idea was, ask your close family to help sample food and cake, ask girlfriends to help find a dress, and ask that creative artist friend to help with invitations... and so on!

The key is don't try to do everything on your own; so even if, say, you're in a new town and don't have many friends nearby yet, enlist the help of Amazon and buy a couple used wedding books (why buy them new? I even resold several of ours afterwards!). I got some great ideas from planning and prepping to the timing of the entire event from the 3 books we started with.

Next up: DIY party favors. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Regifting 101

Re-Gift: something that you've gotten as a gift but either don't like, doesn't fit, or you won't ever use and you either put it in the Salvation Army pile or you (gasp!) throw it out.

This touchy subject brings up several notions of "white elephant" and "gag" presents and Etiquette 101 from grandma. But you either regift or you don't, and if you do, here are some helpful tips to making sure you're not faux-pas-ing yourself into the BadGirl corner where you may never receive any gifts ever again! (Perish the thought!)

I learned about regifting when I was a very small girl. As an only child, my gifts piled up after each holiday, and my "oh-so-thoughtful" mother started a wonderful ritual for me that I always assumed everyone did... after a big loot-earning holiday we'd assess my toy box. At about 2'x4'x2', there wasn't much room in this storage bench for all the toys. So before putting the new toys in there, we'd look at the old toys and see what could be parted with. Despite tears and pouting, this process always happened. Among many valuable lessons, it taught me the art of "letting go." And became a foundation for the regifting process I use today.

If you regift, as with anything, you should make a "system" of it! You don't want to accidentally gift your regift to the person who gave it to you! (Disaster!) Additionally, these tips are to not only help you sytemize your ReGifting process, but also to find yet one more way you can "go green" in your personal life!

To start your organization out right, sequester an old storage bin, craft drawer unit, shelving, or box set to organize your regifts. I have a 6-drawer-tall plastic unit we inherited when my brother-in-law moved that I turned into what we call The Packaging Tower:

Drawer #1: Reusable, colorfu,l gift bags that we get presents/wine/or other goodies in.
Tip #1: If you go to a shower-like party and the host doesn't save them, offer to "recycle" them for her and bring them home.

Drawer #2: Tissue paper of all colors and sizes. After opening a present, we take out the tissue paper, flatten out the wrinkles, and fold it into 1/4 size so it fits in this drawer. Use Tip#1 to help collect tissue paper!

Drawer #3: Ribbons, bows, fake flowers and leaves, and old Christmas present tags. Same as #s 1 and 2, this is basically a recycle bin!

Drawer #s 4-6 are the ReGift drawers.... and we get to the meat of this system here.
Tip #1: Label your presents when they come in of who gave them to you. Most important tip!
Tip #2: Organize your presents into a kid drawer, a woman drawer, and a man drawer. This helps compartmentalize your regifts, IF you get that far, as we have.
Tip #3: If you have the perfect person to give something to as soon as you open it, label it then, and also add a note in your calendar, set about a week before their birthday or other holiday, so you remember to give it to them!
Tip #4: See Post#1 on CardMaking to save $ on cards as well.

Sure, it all sounds pretty easy (now you just have to DO it!), but what CAN you ReGift?

Picture frames that don't quite fit your decor make great regifts when you personalize one with a picture of you and the person you're gifting to!

An olive oil dipping dish set you got as a random gift becomes a great housewarming regift if you include it with some olive oil and (homemade?) bread!

Books you either won't read or that you read carefully enough to maintain their "new" condition. BOOKS TIP: Don't write in that first page and eliminate the chance for re-regifting! (Gosh I hate that!)

Plant clippings make great housewarming presents if you've taken the special care to clip and plant it for them! Paint a boring old pot for the added touch!

Mugs and "chochkees". My personal favorite! If it's got teddies, kitties, puppies or flowers on it, or it says "Steamboat Springs" on it, it's perfect for my regift pile!

Journals make great presents for new moms, I always include a set of new markers. Similarly, random pads of paper with a new set of crayons are great for crafty kids!

Etiquette Tips:
In my personal opinion, clothes are only good ReGifts if they still have the tags on them, so save these for a "Clothing Swap" with your girlfriends- this is my favorite new alternative to taking everything to the second hand store!

Same with old technology such as cameras like poloroids or film, if it's out of date, don't regift it, but DO find out where you can recycle it!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

DIY Bath Salts

A few weeks back I added two posts for making your own face products. Along that same home-factory-idea line is the typical bath salt. I laugh when I see them in the store for $15, when it's often only $1 of Epsom or Sea Salt and a few drops of essential oil, plus $10 of preservatives you DON'T want on your body!

I making salt baths more regularly after a car accident several years ago that left my back in a pretty poor state of health. I was taking a pain-bath about 3-4x a week and it helped immensely. Now I take them for all sorts of reasons: relaxation, menstral cramps, headaches, chest colds, aching muscles, and psoriasis flare-ups.

The salt is the base to this so let's start there!

First, all salts are sea salts either mined as rock or evaporated from the saline solution.

Sea salt is sodium chloride, and is used in cooking and cosmetics. "Dead Sea Salt" is proven to have the highest content of body-healing minerals it it, from the Dead Sea.

Table salt, which is also pure sodium chloride, is usually refined from mined rock salt (halite) or from sea salt. Refined, bleached, and processed is the key difference in cooking salt.

Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate) is often used to correct magnesium deficiency in soil and has about 50 other trace minerals in it. Fossilized Salts and other natural bath salts have these minerals as well, and have muscle-relaxing qualities in them.

The best is to mix inexpensive Epsom with the higher quality Dead Sea salt, but I use Epsom by itself most of the time.

What most scented body products contain are "fragrances," which are most certainly NOT essential oils and not healing in any way. Essential oils are volatile oils that have the odor and flavor of the plant from which they were derived. There are hundreds of "flavors," so I'm only going to give you a few, and I ask you take this one step further by doing the research for your own personal needs. You can also contact my favorite Aromatherapist if you're unsure!

The key is to make sure your oils are organic and pure.

Sample Combinations:
Relaxation: Lavendar, Bergamot, Geranium, Chamomile, Marjoram
Sexuality: Ylang Ylang, Rose, Patchouli
Muscles: Sage, Cajeput, Pine, Balsam Peru, Helichrysum, Tangerine
Respiratory/Flu: Juniper, Eucalyptus, Lemon, Fir, Tea Tree, Peppermint

Combined or solo, these are some great "starter" oils for beginning your first home healing first aid kit!

For Yourself
When it's just for you, drop the oils and the salts right into the bath. A regular shower-and-bath sized tub needs about 10-15 drops total to get the healing properties out of the oils, and larger full tubs can take 20-30 drops. As for the salt, about 2 cups for the small bath and 4 cups for the large one.

As a Gift? Even Better!
This is a great last-minute gift if you have the supplies, and every woman loves a bath.
Take an empty, 12-16 oz clean jar (run through the dishwasher) and fill it to 1/2 full with your salt of choice. Then add about 10-15 drops total of the oils, and fill almost to the rim, leaving enough room to shake the salts and oils together, then shake! I usually make a nice label for it so they know what's in there and what it's "for," (muscles, headaches, etc) and tie a bow around it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Point-and-Shoot 101

This Idea stemmed from the realization that most people don't have time to read their entire camera manual, especially when the device works just fine with Power, Autoflash, and the Automatic setting. But making the most of your technology is the only way to make the most of your memories.... So let's dive into a few tips for you Photography Newbies.

When I worked in the service industry and people would ask me to take their picture I'd chuckle and give them (and their camera) the once-over before saying Yes. Not because I thought to say No, but because a select few were open for a lesson, and some weren't. Without being sexist, I'll stop there; but suffice it to say most people don't read their instruction manual and yet it's such a powerful tool.

You're probably one of those people whose camera takes amazing pictures MOST of the time. But occasionally it just doesn't and you don't know why. You set the dial to that green "Automatic" box and let your sexy-small Point-and-Shoot do its thing. You never look at what those other symbols on that dial mean, and there are a couple more settings you should use.

For most of you, there's a selection called SCN, or Scene, that has multiple options for beach and snow, indoor, fireworks, and sometimes up to a dozen more. There's letters on that dial which, unless you're a little more serious about learning the basics of photography, you CAN ignore (M for Manual, TV and AV for aperture and shutter speed functions, C for Custom, or P for Program.

And you might already use some of the image settings on that dial; there's usually a face, a runner, a black square with a star (night), and a mountain for starters, sometimes a flower as well. You might already use these, and you should. For obvious reasons, the manufacturers have set these settings to be the best they can be for landscape, portraits and sports photography for various reasons. Use them. The sports option might even give you "speed shutter," or multiple shots while holding the shutter button, which give you the best chance at shooting an object/human in motion.

But back to SCN, which I still think is the Point-and-Shoot camera's best feature. And the "Indoor" selection, especially.

When my customers would ask for a picture, that topic was always my first question: "Is it on Indoor?" If they said "What's that?", they got the simple, brief lesson that involved me showing them where that option was. As easy as that, your Indoor setting will not only set the lighting to register the indoor florescent lighting in the best brightness and color balance, but it usually also prevents camera shake that happens when the shutter speed is low, as well as allowing you to avoid the flash if possible, which often creates a bright center and dark background in these small cameras because the flashes are small, fixed into the camera itself, and the least beneficial part of the Point-and-Shoot camera.

Similarly, the Snow and Beach setting will make the humans in the picture stand out more by bringing the lighting into more of a balance without washing out (lightening too much) the snow or sand and without making the faces and clothing of your subjects too dark.

If those are the ONLY two settings you use, you're that much closer to making the most of your camera.

Bottom line is whether you spend $100 or $1000 on a new camera, you should know it's strengths and use them. Even the free Samsung Omnia cell phone we just got has a 5 megapixel camera on it that has SCN ( though a rarity as of yet in camera phones), portrait, and sport settings to name just a few.

Now I leave the floor open to you- I welcome any questions you have regarding your Point-and-Shoot if you don't have, understand, or read your manual!