On New Year's Eve last year, Ben and I made a future-friendly and space saving purchase. We bought three boxes worth of photo scanning from ScanMyPhotos.com. We took advantage of a great sale and got one box free, but it was still a good chunk of change at $368.00. Merry Christmas to us! However, when you consider that fact that we crammed 2,255 original photos spanning about 34 years of memories into just one box, and now they're all preserved digitally and backed up in several places -- I think we got a steal!
What We Ordered:
We bought the "Prepaid Photo Scanning Box" at 300dpi. We could have upgraded to 600dpi if we thought we'd do much enlarging or printing, but mainly, we just wanted to have digitally viewable copies of the pictures for browsing on our computers, tablets, phones, etc., adding them to blog posts, emailing, and so on. So, 300dpi seemed like a sufficient choice. Plus, we can still reprint them at their original size with no problem, and even the 3.5" x 5" photos can be enlarged to 5" x7".
Buying a pre-paid box means that you get to cram as many photos as you want into a flat rate box. That's a LOT of photos. Like I said...we fit 2,255 pictures (mostly 3.5" x 5", 4" x 6", and 5" x 7") into our first box. And we still have two empty boxes to fill!
We did not add any additional upgrades (like photo restoration). We can do that on our end if necessary with PhotoShop or on a photo-by-photo basis.
Preparing Your Photos:
It's not an easy feat to get photos ready to scan. Well, that's not true. It's easy, just time consuming.
Paxton's closet is full of about 20 photo boxes and large plastic bins full of pictures, many of them ours, most of them my mom's, but that includes my childhood, so I claim most of those boxes!
For this first ScanMyPhotos box, we focused on including photos from each of our childhood's through our married life (pre-digital camera).
We'll probably fill one of the other boxes with photos from Ben's parent's house to get more of his and his brothers' childhood and family ancestry, and I'll probably fill the third box with more photos from my mom's photo boxes that include more pictures of Jake's childhood and Mom's activities (since I skipped over those for my first round that was -- All.About.Me.)
We took about 2 weeks and spent the evenings in front of the tv (actally, one of those weeks was when I was doing a No Media fast, which gave me lots of free time to work on it!) to go through photos.
We tossed duplicates, blurry photos, and totally irrelevant pictures. That was hard. I can throw away just about anything, but throwing away pictures was hard. We did it though! And narrowed it down to 2,255 pictures.
My photos came mostly from my mom's photo boxes. It was kind of painful to pull them all out of the nice and neat and organized boxes that had been so carefully labeled with dates, locations and names. We had to sort them by photo size, not content when we got them ready to pack into the box. So they ended up all mixed up. Ouch. That was hard. Will I put them back where they came from? I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, I know we've reduced the number of photo boxes in that closet by about half, just by throwing away duplicate prints.
The good news is, most people don't have that nice and neat and organized system - so it's just a matter of collecting photos from all over and putting them into like-sizes, and then packing them into the box - like this:
Then you ship them away -- another completely stressful element of the process. You pack your entire history away into a box, tape it up as best you can and then just pray and hope that they arrive at their destination safely. All this stress and work is in the name of preserving the memories, but if something happened to this box...they'd be gone forever...
I literally almost threw up when I dropped the box into the post office package drop.
I recommend getting insurance and tracking on your package. I forgot to and had a near panic attack when I realized it. Thankfully, the online chat support at ScanMyPhotos was able to confirm that they did in fact receive my package (their confirmation email sent that same day was caught by my spam filter), and my photos were safe and ready to be processed.
Whew. My nervous breakdown was avoided.
Then you wait. It takes about 4-6 weeks for them to scan all the photos and ship them back to you.
The Finished Product:
Several weeks later, I received an email letting me know when they shipped the box back to me via USPS Priority Mail (with a tracking number). It wasn't nearly as stressful to have it shipped back to me, because I know that they keep a backup of all the digital files for a while. So if the box disappeared...at least the digital files could be recovered at this point.
Here it is:
And here's what all that work resulted in...a DVD full of ALL those photos! I immediately put the images onto our external hard drive (which is backed up nightly via Carbonite), and now I can rest easy, knowing that all those images are safe and accessible!
One of these days I'll probably sort through the images and put them into chronological order in labeled folders on my computer, so they'll be easy to find.
Cool, huh? Wanna see some of the photos?
I mean...this stuff should not be forgotten. It's good stuff. And now it can live on forever!
Bite the bullet. Do it. Have your photos scanned. I'm going to spend this weekend putting together another box full of 'em. It's so worth it!
This year, it seems like our schedule has gotten much crazier with after school activities, church events, and family activities.
To try and keep track of it all -- and make the rest of the family aware of what's going on (instead of the calendar just being in MY head) -- I've been printing a weekly calendar on computer paper and writing in our activities for the week and pre-planning our dinner menus. Then I post it on the refrigerator, which is DEFINITELY the hub of our house. :)
Well, as I'm sure you know, plans and schedules change! So, I did a lot of scratching out, erasing, and rewriting the same things for the next week. But, aside from the scratch outs, the weekly calendar posted on the refrigerator was definitely working for us. Not only did I know exactly what needed to be done to prepare for dinner every day, but I could plan out meals based on the carpool and activity schedule, to make everything a little easier on us all. The system worked....I just needed a more permanent solution that looked nicer and was easier to adjust as our schedule and plans changed.
I designed a basic weekly calendar onto two different sizes of dry erase boards (medium & large). I wasn't sure if the medium version (8" x 12") would be big enough to write all our activities on it, so I ordered both sizes to try them out. The large version is 16" x 22" and would be great for large families with lots going on every week!
I ordered the medium sized version with the basic khaki background, but I got creative with the large one to try out some color matching with our new Sherwin William's paint swatch. I used the hexidecimal value number for our paint color (Worldly Gray #CEC8BB) and just pasted that into the background color. Viola - a perfectly matched piece of decor!
Here's how you do that...
How to Change the Background Color:
Click on the "customize it" button for the product.
Click on "edit" and then "background color" from the drop-down menu.
Next, choose a color from the color pallette or click on Advanced to enter your own hexidecimal number.
Enter the six digit hexidecimal number for your color of choice (which I found for my paint color at the Sherwin Williams web site).
As you can see, it's not exactly the same color as our walls, but it's pretty darn close! This would be such a cool way to perfectly integrate this dry erase board into your own decor.
As far as the quality of Zazzle's dry erase boards, I was overall very pleased. The design printed all the way to the corners, and there is no border or frame added to the board. It comes with a black fine tip dry erase marker that clips right to the front of the board.
The slick finish on the top of the board makes it easy to write on (and easy to wipe off with a paper towel), which is exactly what I was looking for.
It's a pretty low-profile board, only about 3/16" thick.
My only disappointment was that the included "mounting equipment" was just double-stick foam tape in three strips on the back of the board.
I'm sure they stick very well, but I'm *not* confident that they remove easily without ruining whatever it was stuck to, and wasn't about to stick it to my newly painted walls or refrigerator.
Instead, I glued four magnets to the back of the board so it would not-as-permanently stick to my refrigerator. :)
The 16" x 22" version would be pretty easy to put into an open-back frame (which you can have made at any framing shop). Or, you could use something like these if you wanted to mount it to a wall:
After trying out the different sizes for a few weeks, I decided that the medium version was a good size for our family's activities, and it fits nicely on our refrigerator without being too overwhelming.
At regular price, the large version of this (de)Sign is about $40 plus shipping and the medium version is only about $20 plus shipping. Plus, Zazzle offers coupons regularly, so this could really be an inexpensive family organization tool.
I love it! I'm so happy with how my dry erase board has worked out. And now I can stop wasting printer paper on my weekly calendar scribbles. :)
- Would this calendar and dinner menu dry erase board be helpful in your house?
- What size would you get?
- Would you change the colors?
If you like this, you can buy it and customize your own here:
Or check out all of Zazzle's dry erase boards from tons of artists!
I've got to share an awesome blogging tool that I've started using recently called Lazy Linkies.
I love sharing my blog content at linky parties. They're a fantastic way to share my projects and tutorials with new audiences - and they work! My blog traffic has largely increased since I started participating in linky parties.
The problem is...there are LOTS of them, hosted on all different blogs, with different guidelines, on different days, and at different times of the day. They are all great parties to participate in, but I was having a hard time keeping up with which blogs posted their parties on which day of the week, checking to see if the weekly post had gone live yet throughout that day, and trying to remember to check them all. It was taking up entirely too much of my time, but the payoff and traffic I got from each of them was really great, so I didn't want to stop.
Enter: Lazy Linkies. Seriously. Simplified it all, and made it so easy!
Lazy Linkies monitors all of those blogs for me and notifies me when each blog's weekly linky party goes live. Now, instead of manually checking each of those blogs multiple times a day, when a linky party is posted, I'm notified immediately, I go to the post, fill out the form with my newest blog content, and am often one of the first links in the list. So easy. So fast. So wonderful.
If you regularly participate in linky parties, do yourself a favor and try using Lazy Linkies! You'll be SO glad you did!
Since it's what I do and love, I think it's important to do my best to support other mom-based businesses with a handmade twist. So when offered the opportunity to review this adorable little etsy shop called Burlap + Blue, I jumped at the chance.
Burlap + Blue specializes in cake stands, dessert pedestals and home decor with a vintage-inspired feel. And Linda, the shop owner has a great eye for vintage and shabby-chic, as you can see from her blog. She even has some great DIY tutorials:
|Shabby Flower Pillow||Burlap + Ruffles Ottoman||Wood + Felt Buntings|
This particular black and white damask dessert pedestal in her shop caught my eye right away.
It's made from combining a gorgeous patterned ceramic plate and a painted metal candlestick.
Together, they create this beautiful, delicate stand that says "I'm special."
I envision it proudly supporting a gorgeously decorated scrumptious cupcake for a special birthday, tiny little cheese cubes at a party buffet, or a perfectly wrapped little present with a pretty bow. But for today, a few oatmeal cookies will have to do. :) Don't worry, they're yummy too!
Check out some of the other great hand-crafted products that Linda has in her Burlap + Blue Etsy Shop!
How cute are those customized coasters? And the clock? Love it!
I'll bet you'll find a special piece in her store that speaks to you. If you do..use coupon code signsbyandrea for 15% off - expires 3/22/12.
You're welcome. Happy shopping!
Brezina Refinishing Review - Birmingham, AL
My grandparents bought a beautiful set of maple furniture for my mom and aunt when they were young. A dresser & mirror, two secretary desks, a lingerie chest and a set of bunk beds. If there were night stands, I'm not aware of it!
Anyhow, my mom inherited the bunk beds, dresser and one of the secretary desks when she moved out on her own (or sometime in her young adult life), which means that for most of my life, *I* used them as my bedroom furniture.
They'd been beat up, scratched, stained, dented, and even had a LOT of stickers put all over them. But still, they remained sturdy pieces of furniture. We had the dresser refinished as a wedding present when Ben and I got married 11 years ago, and it now resides in Ayla's room. As does one of the twin beds, which has since been painted with white laquer paint.
But the secretary desk that I love so dearly has unfortunately sat in our garage taking up space and collecting dust for 11 years until we were ready to spend the money to have it refinished. We waited and waited and discussed it and stewed over it every time we cleaned out the garage. Finally, this year, I decided it was time to either fix it up and use it somewhere in the house or let it go.
Well, I couldn't let it go.
I knew it would look so great in our kitchen and help keep all the mail and papers at bay that seem to collect on the island. But...I'd only like it *IF* it was painted, not stained. With all the red wood floors in our kitchen, the wood finish just didn't look quite right. But imagine it all painted black...now THAT would be sharp!
Originally I was going to try and paint it myself. That illusion lasted about 10 minutes when I told Ben about my big revelation and he said "you're not doing this yourself." He was right. This desk has an insane amount of nooks and crannies and I'm not known for my detailed precision when it comes to stuff like this. Oh, and I've never done any refinishing before so I have zero experience.
So off to the professionals I went. Brezina Refinishing was recommended to me by a local friend, so I called for an estimate, was not completely shocked by the price, and decided to just go for it.
Brezina Refinishing (Tony Lee)
4915 5th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35222
(Be sure to tell Tony that Andrea Steed sent you!)
I asked Tony for a black satin finish with slight distressing. I was VERY pleased!
He did just the perfect amount of distressing around the edges so that the original wood peeks through. Plus, check out that shiny brass hardware all spiffed up!
He finished every piece of it, inside & out, front and back (since the back is open to our playroom downstairs). It even got three new knobs for the inside drawers (since I was so resourcefully using a paper clip - yikes.
Even the inside shelves have some neat distressing marks that almost make it look like it's *actually* worn down that way.
And the chair looks just as good! Check it out:
Ahh...love it. Working with Tony at Brezina Refinishing was a joy. I would absolutely recommend him for any wood refinishing work. I even got to see some samples of cool furniture he's restored and re-vamped in his workshop and home. He does fantastic work. Plus, I caught him during a slow season, so he was able to have my desk delivered to me only a week and a half after I brought it to him. Unbelievable!
I'm so glad to finally have this desk out of the garage and into the house! Yay!
Next on the bedroom furniture refinishing list -- turning that other twin headboard and footboard into a bench for the entryway. Something along these lines...maybe in a color this time though! I think I'll probably let Brezina Furniture tackle that project too. :)
Several weeks ago, I borrowed this book from the library - The Curly Girl Handbook by Lorraine Massey. I was in desperate need of a haircut, was wearing a lot of ponytails, the weather was humid and atrocious, and I had read about this "Curly Girl Method" and figured I'd see what it was all about.
The handbook convinced me to give it a try - for at least 6 weeks. I mean, look how pretty those curls are! I was wearing my hair curly most days anyhow with all the insane Alabama humidity, so why not try to make it look better when I did wear it that way? Plus, it looked like the process would be pretty easy...just a little odd, since you have to quit using shampoo.
Okay, let me explain...
The Curly Girl Method
Here are the basics of what I did:
- Get a haircut. I needed a trim, badly. It had been about a year since my last haircut.
- Quit using shampoo - cold turkey. Evidently sulfates are a big no-no for curly girls.
- Use a light conditioner - I used Suave Naturals Conditioner - just on my fingertips, and vigorously massage my scalp with it. This is supposed to remove all the oils, dirt, hair product, dead skin, etc.
- Rinse hair thoroughly, starting to detangle with my fingers.
- Apply a deeper moisturizing conditioner - I used Giovanni Conditioner - from the bottom up covering the ends first and moving upward in a scrunching motion.
- Comb through with a wide-toothed comb to remove tangles and loose hairs.
- Scrunch again and let conditioner sit on your hair for a couple of minutes.
- Rinse hair gently, but not completely, leaving much of the conditioner in it.
- Squeeze hair dry in the shower as much as possible, still using that scrunching motion.
- Use a t-shirt to scrunch the curls dry, squeezing out more water. According to the book, terry cloth towels can cause a lot of breakage, but cotton doesn't.
- Apply gel (lots of gel) from the bottom up in a scrunching motion (curly girls REALLY like the scrunching) - I started off using Suave Naturals Gel, but later switched to LA Looks (about week 4) and liked it much better.
- Let hair finish air drying.
- About an hour later, I would turn my head upside down and shake my hair out, scrunching the curls to "release the gel cast" from the gel.
So that's the method I used...and here's what I thought of it and how it worked:
Week By Week Results
First...this is the hair I was aiming for. Realistic? Maybe not (especially since she has about a foot of length on me and is some sort of model). But we all start with a wish, right?
Before: These photos were taken just after my haircut and my last shampooing, with just some mousse scrunched in my hair. I let it air dry. As you can see, it's kind of wavy, a little bit frizzy, but not so awful, the curl is just a little uneven.
1 Week: Not liking this. My hair feels a little greasy, my scalp itches, and I haven't figured out how to squeeze the water out of it very well after I wash it. Curlier? Yeah, I guess...but it feels kind of icky. And I felt like I was getting some odd looks from people who see me often. My guess is, since they didn't say they liked it, they thought my hair looked crazy. :)
2 Weeks: I (and my hair) are more used to the process now - not using shampoo and using lots of conditioner and lots gel. I can see that my hair looks a little bit bouncier and the curl is more even. I'm having a hard time not running my hands through it though, and feel like it's ALWAYS tangled. Since I used to straighten my hair about once or twice a week, I'm really missing that smooth feeling - at least once in a while. This week I did get a couple of compliments though on my curls, which helped me press on.
3 Weeks: This week I started noticing a little bit of dandruff and what looked like product buildup at my roots Nothing major, but I switched up my conditioning routine to apply less of the deeper moisturizing conditioner to the top of my head, and concentrated mostly on the middle and ends. That way the roots just got cleansed and massaged, but not overly conditioned. That appeared to help.
This photo (below) was taken at about 3 weeks into my experiment. Seeing the photo was the first time I thought - Wow! My curls actually look pretty!
4 Weeks: I would REALLY like to shampoo my hair this week (about this time I probably should have tried a warm water and baking soda rinse to remove some product buildup), and I'm dying to just brush it and wear it straight for a few days. But, I don't. A six week experiment is a six week experiement. So, instead, I start shopping for a different gel since it still gets pretty frizzy by the end of the day.
5 Weeks: I switched to LA Looks hair gel this week, and although it makes my curls a little crispier, I think it makes them much more definined, less frizzy, and a little "lighter" looking. I did a one-day trial with some Suave Mousse (and no gel) - and it was Frizz City! Back to the gel I went...
6 weeks: I spent most of this week dreaming of straightening my hair and being able to run my fingers through it without them getting stuck. No joke. I actually had a dream about using my flat-iron. That said, I DO like the way my hair looks when it's curly now and I think experimenting with this haircare method has helped me cultivate my curls a little better.
While doing this exeriment, I always liked the way my hair looked better when I showered in the morning and let it air dry, rather than when I let it air dry at night and then slept on it. On those days I would use a spray bottle with water to wet my hair and re-scrunch it, which worked fairly well, but since I couldn't really comb or brush through it first, it always felt more tangled on those days.
I still have a lot to learn, and there are lots of great recipes that I'd like to try - such as a lavender mist spray to revitalize your curl, or a brown sugar scrub to exfoliate your scalp, and a baking soda rinse to remove product buildup. Maybe I'll try those sometime soon. Here are some great recipes if you want to try them - Curly Concoctions.
VERDICT: Is it possible to be a partial curly girl? I'm going to continue working on finding a formula that works for me. Right now, I'm thinking it will include an occasional sulfate-free shampoo and occasional flat-ironing too -- even if the true curly girls think that's from the Devil! However , I do have a renewed love for LA Looks hair gel - which is a major throwback to my junior high perm days. :)
But tomorrow - I'm straightening my hair and I can't WAIT to run my fingers through it again!
Curly Girl Products:
Update: Here are links to some curly girl products that have been mentioned and recommended in the comments below from fellow curly girls:
- WEN products
- Aveda Be Curly Products
- DevaCurl Products
- Mixed Chicks Products
- Sebastian Potion 9 Wearable Treatment
- Kinky Curly...Knot Today
- Redken Contour Shaping Lotion
- Moroccan Oil Curl Control Cream
- Trader Joe's Nourish Spa Balance Moisturizing Conditioner
- Loreal Sulfate Free Products
- Organix Brazilian Keratin Treatment
- Nature's Gate - Tea Tree Calming Shampoo
This post has gotten WAY more attention than I ever would have imagined, so I think it deserves an update. :) After this experiment, I tried a few of the suggestions people have mentioned here. Some things I liked:
I loved how a white distilled vinegar rinse & water solution made my scalp feel and how well it removed all the buildup from the conditioner and gel.
In the same fashion, a sulfate free shampoo works really well too. I've recently started washing with Nature's Gate - Tea Tree Calming Shampoo. That seems to help with removing the product buildup and significanly reducing dandruff and itchiness I had started to notice when I began this experiment.
One commenter recommended the Ouidad.com web site for great curly girl products and tutorials. I checked it out and tried the "rake & shake" method they recommend as a way of detangling and applying gel while it's wet, and then "setting" the curls with a shaking method. I tried that today and I've been SO pleased with the results of that very easy-to-do technique! Here's a look at my hair today after trying it out for the first time (click images for larger pictures):
Rake & Shake Method -
Section your wet hair (I did the bottom section, then middle section & finally the top section) and secure it with a clip.
Then put a dollop of gel in your hands and apply it to your hair in 2-3 inch sections using a raking motion to detangle the hair.
Rake to the ends of each section and then gently shake the hair. This lets it set into it's own natural curl pattern. Continue throughout the rest of your hair by section.
When finished, scrunch the curls gently with your towel (or cotton t-shirt) to enhance the curl and remove excess moisture. You can then diffuse dry or air dry. It left my hair with un-frizzy ringlet curls all day long!
Finding the Perfect Match:
Boy, do I have a fabulous giveaway for you today! But first, let me show you what arrived last week:
That's a 16" x 20" stretched canvas print of a photo I that took of my daughter and her friends playing "rainy day". I'm so excited about how perfect it's going to look hanging next to a 16" x 20" You Are My Sunshine canvas in my mother-in-law's office:
My mother-in-law counsels young mothers with toddlers and babies and works with families that need a lot of "sunshine" and encouragement. When she mentioned one day that she'd like to have this photo to hang in her office, I began thinking about how I could incorporate it to go with her You Are My Sunshine canvas. Then, a couple of weeks later I connected with Julie Ryan at My Fine Art...and well, the match was made. I knew exactly what photo I needed to have made into a canvas print! And I love how it turned out.
Be Inspired by Canvas Display Ideas:
Now of course, I would love to have several more and just need to free up some more wall-space! How cool would a collage of 6 of these 12" x 12" deep profile canvases look? They're only $30 each, which is a super deal. I'm visualizing a set of 6 canvases: four 12" x 12" canvas displaying a favorite photograph of each family member, one with the entire family together, plus a decorative canvas featuring a favorite quote or bible verse:
The 12 x 12 canvases shown above are actual canvases printed at My Fine Art.
Or, here's some more canvas decorating inspiration for you...I just love how clean and simple a stretched canvas looks and how the style really showcases the photographs:
The six display inspiration examples shown here are from a Google image search for
wall canvas display ideas, and are not image examples of canvas prints by My Fine Art.
Having trouble choosing which of your photos to have printed on canvas? Here are some ideas to get those creative juices flowing:
- family portraits for a den or living room, to hang over the mantle
- action shot sports photos to decorate a playroom or kid's bedroom
- favorite travel photographs (beaches, gardens, mountains, cities, buildings, etc) to display in an office, kitchen or living room
- wedding portraits or favorite "couple" candids to hang in your master bedroom
- newborn moments or "birth-day" hospital photos to hang over a crib in a nursery
- favorite baby or toddler candids of each of your grandkids
- a princess castle picture for your little princess's bedroom -- (oh, this picture I took at Disney World would make a GREAT canvas print.)
- ahh...so many ideas...so little wall space. :)
My Fine Art Giveaway & Coupon:
So, now that you're sufficiently inspired and itching to have your favorite photos turned into canvas prints, let me formally introduce you to Julie's custom canvas printing business on Etsy:
The talented Julie Ryan from the fabulous "Less-Than-Perfect-Life-of-Bliss" blog is the mastermind behind the business. She will work with you to take your digital photograph and artistic ideas and turn them into one-of-a-kind stretched canvas pieces of fine art in all different sizes from small to HUGE (30" x 40" big enough for ya?). And believe me...there's nothing cooler than seeing your photographs turned into a canvas print! See?
Julie has generously offered to give away a 16" x 20" custom printed stretched canvas to one of my readers! (shipped anywhere within the US). And...she's offering a 10% off discount* through the end of March 2011 - JUST for you guys! So, if you've always wanted a canvas display made from your favorite photos...now is the time! *To redeem the 10% off discount, just contact Julie through her Etsy shop to request a custom discounted listing.
So, go check out Julie's blog & My Fine Art Etsy shop and come back and comment here to let me know what you'd have put on your 16" x 20" custom canvas if you were to win! What are you waiting for? I'll draw a winner on Friday morning, so enter now!
Last week I was browsing through the Snapfish.com web site as I made my monthly photo order, and saw that their new Photo Skins were 40% off. Well, since I have a snazzy new phone, and a great new family photo that I love, I thought it would be the perfect time to try this fun little product out!
Snapfish has teamed up with SkinIt.com to make custom photo skins for all kinds of electronics, such as phones, laptops, PDAs, iPads, mp3 players - you name it. So, for only $15 shipped, it was worth a shot -- because you know I love to add a photograph to ANYTHING I can. :)
When you go to create your design, first you have to choose your device. They have TONS to choose from, and it was easy to find my exact phone (Samsung Intensity).
Then, you use the SkinIt online software to create your design. It links up with all of your Snapfish photo galleries, so you don't even have to upload any additional photos (unless you want to). I was able to test some different photographs, change the sizes and move them around to make it look just how I wanted it to look. You can also add text, textures, and pre-made designs, but I stuck with just a photograph for mine. The software allowed me to design a skin for both the front and back of the phone, so I did both...but when it arrived, I decided to only use the back photograph design, and not the front brick texture I had chosen.
Be aware that while you're creating your design, you are at the co-branded Snapfish.SkinIt.com web site, and your order will arrive from SkinIt - not Snapfish. So unfortunately, you can't include a photo skin with your regular Snapfish prints order. It has to be entered as a separate order. Not a huge deal, but a little confusing since I was in the process of a print order as well that particular day.
About a week later, my skin arrived in the mail! It was very easy to apply. Simply wipe down your phone with a damp cloth and let it dry. Then peel off the vinyl sticker and apply it to the phone. Since it's been pre-cut to fit my phone exactly, it was easy to place it. The vinyl is plenty thick and durable, and appears to stay stuck pretty well, and I had no problems getting all the bubbles out during application (just press down the center with your fingers and then out towards the edges of the sticker to remove any bubbles).
I had sort of expected the sticker to wrap completely around the sides of the phone, but instead it fits in the center. Ultimately, that was fine, but is probably why I decided not to use the front sticker on my phone, since the brick texture from the back photo didn't wrap around to the front at all. That made the front brick image look odd.
All in all, I think it's a fun little accessory to my phone. Think how cool it would look on a laptop!!
When I received an email asking me if I'd be interested in reviewing some new sets of permanent markers from BIC on my blog, you'd better believe I was interested. They sent me two sets of the new Mark-It Color Collections - ultra fine and fine point permanent markers in 36 colors each. I tell you what, for a girl who loves office supplies and scrapbooking products, it was like Christmas in October!
- writes on nearly any surface, including slick surfaces like plastic, glass and metal
- excellent detail doodling and journaling possible with the ultra-fine tip markers
- fabulous easy-to-use, sturdy storage case
- includes a color available to match ANYTHING
- passes the "eraser test" (draw guidelines w/pencil, write journaling w/marker, erase pencil marks = NO SMEARING! Yay!)
- would prefer a slightly more opaque finish when writing on glass, plastic and other slick surfaces (gel pens or paint pens work better for that opaque finish)
- can wash off of dishes when put in the dishwasher
- Markers Used: Fandango Pink (fine) & Deep Sea Blue (fine)
- Markers Used: Fandango Pink (ultra-fine), Hot Aqua (fine) & Hot Aqua (ultra-fine)
Next, I tackled a holiday-decor project - Christmas tree ornaments. First, I decorated a glittered Styrofoam ball ornament with polka dots, a hand-drawn letter and some ribbon. I knew the Styrofoam ball would be tricky, since it's a textured surface, but the markers did a remarkably good job covering the area and maintaining a fairly precise look.
- Markers Used: Rambunctious Red (fine), Hot Aqua (fine) & Tuxedo Black (ultra-fine)
- Markers Used: Rambunctious Red (fine) & Tuxedo Black (ultra-fine)
- Marker Used: Meadow Green (ultra-fine)
- Markers Used: Woodsy Brown (ultra-fine), Tranquil Teal (ultra-fine), Tranquil Teal (fine), Honey Brown (ultra-fine)
- 36-count BIC Mark-It Permanent Marker Color Collection - Fine
- 36-count BIC Mark-It Permanent Marker Color Collection - Ultra-Fine
- or check your local craft store!
Carnival Fantasy: 4 night cruise - Mobile, AL to Cozumel
I read several cruise reviews before our vacation this year, and enjoyed and appreciated how well they prepped me for what to expect on our cruise. So, I thought I'd return the favor for all you looking for info about going on a cruise, and share a little bit about our trip.
A little bit of background, because every cruiser is different and has different expectations and experiences:
This was the first vacation my husband and I have taken together, by ourselves, in 4 years. We have a 3 1/2 year old and a 1 year old, and are deep in the trenches of vaccuming cheerios, wiping faces, listening to crying children, and ultimately taking care of their every need, every day, every minute. So an all-inclusive cruise sounded like exactly the mindless, decision-less, pre-planned, service-filled vacation we were looking for
Also important -- This is the second cruise we have been on together. The last one was 5 years ago (pre-children) on Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas. So, we knew what the general experience of a cruise was like going into the trip and though the two cruise lines are different, the experience is generally very similar.
Those things said, here's what we thought of our trip:
We sailed on the Carnival Fantasy from Mobile, Alabama (which will be replaced by the Elation in May 2010). Passenger capacity is a little over 2,000 and it has 10 decks. The ship was recently renovated and was incredibly clean and well-maintained.
Our favorite spot was the wide Via Marina hallway on the Promenade deck, which was full of lots of little nooks and tables next to large windows overlooking the ocean on one side while the other side opened into the casino, night clubs and the Bistro. This is also where the photographers set up thier backdrops each night for portraits. It was kind of the hub of activity after dinner each night, and where we spent a lot of our indoor time when we weren't eating or in our room sleeping.
We stayed in an Interior Stateroom -- the cheapest available with no windows and no frills -- but were very pleased with the room. The bed was comfortable, the pillows & bedding were perfect, and even the bathroom was reasonably spacious (for a boat, you know).
There were plenty of drawers, a big closet, and our suitcases fit right under the bed, so it was easy to put everything away and not trip over it all weekend. The only thing we were missing was a hairdryer, but when I asked our stateroom attendant if that was possible to get (I was already imagining a trip to the front of the boat to "air dry" each night), he delivered one to the room within about 30 minutes.
Perhaps I should also have asked him for a digital clock, because the only clock we had in the room was the television channel showing our trip progress. Since the room is pitch black with no windows, it's impossible to judge what time it might be when you wake up in the middle of the night - 2am feels and looks exactly the same as 10am. We kept a cell phone near us to check the time, but next time I'd bring a digital clock -- there's just something I like about not having to move to know what time it is when I'm in bed!
The top decks were wonderful, with lots of deck chairs, several seating areas (both near and away from the stage & pool, depending on your preference). The Lido deck has a grill and bar available and open most of the day.
On the back of the ship there were a couple of waterslides, which we tried out, and that the kids on the boat absolutely loved. It's a nice cool-off alternative to the rather small swimming pool and stuffed-with-pre-teens hot tubs.
The very top deck included an "Olympic" jogging track, which was rather funny, since it takes 11 laps to make a mile. That would be a pretty boring olympics. But there was also a miniature golf course (very plain) and some kind of putting practice cage.
Other areas inside the boat that we visited frequently included the Celebration dining room (very nice), the Windows on the Sea cafeteria (also nice), the fitness center (great machines to use), the Universe Lounge (auditorium for the shows - which had very comfortable seats and mini-tables), and the Grand Spectrum (main center area of the ship).
Overall, it was a very nice ship and we had no complaints about the appearance or condition.
We weren't expecting anything fantastic with the cruise itinerary. Since we were set on crusing out of Mobile, our options were limited. The destination ports weren't that important to us though, since we just wanted a vacation away from home. In fact, when people asked us where the cruise was going, we often forgot! That's how unimportant it was to us WHERE we were cruising to!
Here's a general outline of the itinerary:
THURSDAY - board
FRIDAY - Fun Day at Sea (formal night)
SATURDAY - docked in Cozumel, Mexico
SUNDAY - Fun Day at Sea
MONDAY - disembarkment
We had late dining at 8:15 pm (6:00 dining or on-demand dining were our other options when we booked the cruise). So, dinner was over around 10:00. It seemed as though there were several activities planned during our dinner time, that we missed, but early diners could take advantage of since their dinner was over by then. There wasn't much going on during the early dining hours -- that's when we usually took a nap and got ready for dinner.
Next time, I think we'd pick the on-demand dining, as that would also allow us to sit with different people each night. Not that we didn't like our table-mates. We did...just would have enjoyed some variety since we didn't travel with friends this time.
As far as other offered activities (which are scheduled all day long from 7am to 1am), we didn't participate in many of them, so I can't review them very accurately. We were amused by the contests on the Lido deck, the dance lessons in the discotech, and the karaoke in one of the lounges. There's always something to watch or listen to. Just check your daily "Fun Times" newsletter for the schedule and descriptions, left with chocolates on the bed! :)
While in Cozumel, we did not participate in any excursions, and opted to take a taxi downtown to walk around and shop instead.
It seemed as though the people we talked to on the boat weren't that thrilled with the beaches they saw, although I read great things about some of the resorts before our trip. If I go back again, I'd like to try snorkeling. I just didn't get close enough to that clear water as I would have liked to!
Ooh, the food... While I wouldn't say it was the best food I'd ever had, it was definitely good, had a great variety of types of food, and there was LOTS of it! You could eat and eat and eat and eat as much as you wanted, anytime you wanted, all day long. That said, it is also easy to eat really healthy foods and eat well the whole time too. In fact, my husband lost two pounds and I didn't gain any. We attribute that to all the stair-climbing and walking we did, because we certainly didn't watch what we ate!
The Windows on the Sea and Lido Grill both had lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, and a variety of main course and side dish options. When we ate at these places (mostly for breakfast, lunch & snacks) we ate burgers, fries, taco bar, omlettes, salad bar, fish, chicken, crab cakes, danishes, calamari, sausage, eggs, cheesecake, cookies, ice cream and pizza. Pretty basic stuff, and it was all buffet-style.
When we ate dinner (and one lunch & one breakfast) in the dining room, you were presented with a menu that included 3-4 special "Chef Recommends" menu items and appetizers (which both changed each day) and the "Carnival Classics" which were available everyday. I ordered a different appetizer & entree each night - with the exception of dessert. Nothing could top the Carnival Classic Warm Chocolate Melting Cake with vanilla ice cream. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
You could also order from a complimentary room service menu at anytime. We tried to order breakfast with a card menu on our door the first night, but it ended up that weren't in our room when it was supposed to be delivered the next morning...so we aren't sure if it ever came.
I was also a big fan of the sushi bar in the Via Marina as an appetizer to dinner!
Our only complaint about the food -- it would have been really nice to have popcorn, crackers or chips or something snack-y available all day long instead of just the pizza & ice cream. A salty snack would have been perfect.
As I mentioned, we didn't participate in many of the scheduled activities, but we did enjoy several of the entertainment options. We went to both shows in the Universe Lounge, one was a Beatles Tribute show, which I enjoyed and thought was fairly well-done. The other was a tribute to famous clubs (ie. Copa Cabana, Tropicana, etc.) We only caught half of the show and weren't as excited about it. Still, it's rather amazing that the dancers and singers can do all that on a rocking ship!
There were a couple of live singers and musicians that played in smaller public areas on the boat, and we enjoyed listening to them in the late afternoon and evenings. The guy who sang in the Grand Spectrum was especially good! We listened to him several times.
The cruise director "Risa" and her crew did a good job, but it was definitely like summer camp for adults, so kind of cheesy, lots of !!!! exclamation points in everything they said, and kind of silly activities. But if you get into their games and have the right group of people with you (my girlfriends and I would have had a blast doing all the "stuff"), it's probably a lot of fun -- bingo, contests, games, dancing, etc.
I found the photo setups each evening to be pretty entertaining -- since I love photography. It was very "glamour-shots-esque", with all the backdrop scenes and cheesy posing, but really, you could come away with a great portrait (in addition to some really silly ones!). Our dinner mates bought 11 portraits while on the boat...but they said they hadn't had a photo taken of the two of them in years before that. So good for them! We only bought one--but we had some doozies to look at all week! :)
I would have LOVED the photo service if they linked all your pictures to your Sign & Sail account, let you use a kiosk to view them (so you didn't have to shuffle through hundreds of prints) and then could order prints in any sizes or quantities. But, they don't have that technology available (bet Disney does!). Plus, then they could sell more 8x10s at $21.99 instead of 4x6's. :)
This is why we went on a cruise. Service. We needed to be served, and we weren't disappointed.
The stateroom attendants are on top of everything! Everytime we left the room, when we came back, the bed was re-made, towels replaced and folded, trash emptied, glasses replaced, ice refilled, and even the toilet paper was folded. It was wonderful. It's like having your very own magic cleaning elf. Loved it.
The information desk people were helpful and efficient. We went to them twice, first to put cash on my Sign & Sail card (for onboard drinks, photos, and other extra purchases) and second to pick up a dose of Bonine on Friday when I was sea sick (normally the motion wouldn't bother me much, but this day of the trip was especially rocky).
Our dining staff, which was the same to guys the whole trip, was probably our only complaint, and really they weren't bad, just not as entertaining as the staff was on our Royal Caribbean cruise a few years ago. It's just the luck of the draw I think, because we saw several waiters hamming it up at the other tables. It didn't matter though...we still had chairs pulled out for us, napkins placed on our laps, silverware and glasses and plates magically appeared and disappeared at the appropriate times, and they always brought us anything we asked for. We were just happy to be able to stay seated for an entire meal and not have to wolf our food down in 5 minutes while cutting food and feeding it to a screaming child!
It's like the staff is trained to only say "yes" and they completely remove "no" from their vocabulary. Comprised of individuals from all over the world, they're work ethic and dedication to pleasant, friendly service could serve as a great model for many non-helpful and cranky American workers we run into everyday.
People watching. That's what we did a LOT of on our cruise. Ages varied from young couples to families with kids of all ages, to middle-aged couples and even lots of seniors. Everyone we talked with was from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida. Leaving out of Mobile definitely limits the cruisers to this region...because otherwise, you'd likely go ahead and fly to Miami or some place that offers more cruising options. So, you have to kind of expect a little bit of southern flair aboard the ship.
This cruise is definitely Alabama-happy. How else would it be completely normal for "Sweet Home Alabama" to get everyone on the dance floor in an instant (complete with the "Roll Tide Roll" add-on) in the middle of the ocean? Not to mention the randomness of being able to say "War Eagle" on the streets of Cozumel and get an instant "War Eagle" back.
I'd go again in a heartbeat. Especially if I had a babysitter. :)