Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Find Your Perfect Holiday Card With Shutterfly

Halloween may be my favorite holiday of the year, but the entire month of December is not far behind it. It's hard for me to believe that it's already time to start unpacking the decorations and gearing up for the winter holidays, but as soon as Halloween is past, the remaining weeks until Christmas will be a whirlwind of activity.

Which means now is the perfect time to start thinking about holiday cards. Ever since the rise of the photo card, I've become a fan of sending out Christmas cards each year. We love sending out new photos of the family to distant friends and family members, getting photo cards in return to display on the mantle.

In our house, there are a few rules when selecting our annual card. First, it needs to not be a folded card. (This rule comes from me.) The holidays are already so busy, and a folded card - with all of that beautiful blank space inside just begging for someone to fill it with words- is too much stress for me to handle. I want my greeting to be printed on the card along with our names and have it ready to go. Sounds impersonal, I know, but I think friends would rather receive a card from us without my messy handwriting rather than no card at all.

Second, the card has to keep to a semi-generic "Happy Holidays" theme. (This rule comes from my husband.) My family celebrates Christmas, while my husband's family celebrates Hanukkah, and some of our friends simply enjoy the holiday season. The thought of getting two or more different sets of cards and trying to figure out which ones best suit which recipients makes my head spin. Instead, we choose one design that we hope will offend no one.

Thankfully, Shutterfly has hundreds of gorgeous designs to choose from, and no matter the rules your family may have for picking just the right card - whether they be Christmas cards, Hanukkah cards or just holiday cards - they will have a card for you. Here are three of my favorites:

Isn't this design gorgeous? The black background with the brightly colored snowflakes is so modern, and the colors just make me happy. Looking at this card, I'm wishing for the snow to get here soon!

I love the color combination on this card as well as the ability to add three different photos. Sometimes I have a horrible time choosing the right photo for a card, but with a card like this, I've got a lot more flexibility. Also, the text is customizable, so I can easily omit the "Merry Christmas" in favor of "Happy Holidays" or simply "With love."

I know, this one really doesn't look like a holiday card, does it? But I love it because it's so different. The interesting color, the flourishes - it's perfect for someone who doesn't want a traditional holiday card.

Which one will I choose? I have no idea. Honestly, these are three of about ten favorites I have saved, and it may come down to simply closing my eyes and picking one. No matter which one I choose, I know it will look amazing on the premium cardstock.

Bloggers - Get Your Own Cards Free!

Do you want 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly? Click here to go to Shutterfly for information on how you can get 50 free cards this holiday season, and make sure to select Clever 1000 as the referral source.

Full disclosure: This post is part of a series sponsored by Shutterfly. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Twelve Weeks of Christmas: Travel Time

I think it's safe to say most of us travel for the holidays, whether across state lines or just across town. And if your car is looking like mine right now, it could probably use a little help before you hit the road this winter.

A few tips to get your vehicle travel-ready:

- Get any maintenance done now. Take your car for an oil change, make sure all of the lights are working, the battery is in good shape, and the antifreeze is doing...well...whatever exactly antifreeze does. This is also a good time to check your tire tread and replace any worn-down tires before driving on wintry roads.

- Clean out the clutter! Get rid of that newspaper you left on the floor, the empty soda bottle you forgot to take with you, and any excess toys hanging out in the backseat. After you've removed the clutter, give your car a quick vacuum to suck up crumbs and dirt.

- Don't forget to clean the inside of your windshield. We all know how to clean the outside of the windshield, but the inside is often neglected. A dirty windshield on the inside can increase glare and make it hard to see at night.

- Keep an emergency kit in the car. When cleaning out your trunk to pack as many presents in it as possible, make sure your emergency kit stays in the car. No one wants to be stuck on the side of the road, but if you are, an emergency roadside kit is a lifesaver to have.

And speaking of roadside emergency kits, be sure to visit Heather at Domestic Extraordinaire this week for your chance to win a 42 piece AAA roadside emergency kit!

PS - Congrats to my Week 2 winner, Shel! She won 3 bottles each of Tide with Acti-Lift and Ultra Downy in the new Sun Blossom scent! Happy laundry day, Shel!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Disney's Beauty and the Beast Charms A New Generation on Blu-Ray

I have fond memories of watching the Disney animated classic Beauty and the Beast when I was a freshman in high school. It was my favorite of all of the Disney movies for several reasons. First, Belle was a smart, independent, bookish girl like myself. She wasn't looking for a man to complete her, and was quite happy to reject the town hunk rather than give in to someone she didn't like. Love came as a surprise with the Beast, and it involved both of them accepting each other for who they were. It wasn't the typical princess fairy tale we all have come to expect, and I liked that.

But I also loved the animation. I still can picture the shot of the chandelier while they were dancing during the song "Beauty and the Beast." It was the first extensive use of computer animation, and seeing such detail in that chandelier was amazing.

The music was also fantastic. I still own my original cassette of the soundtrack, and can still probably sing every word of "Be Our Guest." The film won two Academy Awards and two Grammy Awards for music, and was the first Disney animated film to inspire its own Broadway show.

In other words: I love this movie. It was one of the first Disney films that I truly fell for, and I'm thrilled that I can now show it to my smart, independent and bookish daughters.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition was released for the first time on Blu-ray in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack on October 5, 2010. Included in this set is a fully remastered and restored version of the film on Blu-ray as well as a DVD copy, along with lots of bonus features and extras to keep the fun going well past the movie.

Some of the extras include deleted scenes, making-of and behind-the-scenes features, enhanced music tracks, and interactive games. There are three versions of the film you can choose from: the original theatrical release, the special extended edition that includes the song "Human Again" which was cut from the original version, and the storyboard version, which shows the storyboards alongside the film.

My favorite extra is the Sing-Along Mode, where the words of the songs appear on the screen so you can sing along. I know most of the songs, but it's nice to have a cheat sheet to help me teach my girls the songs as well. My youngest daughter loves the Enchanted Musical Challenge game, while my oldest likes to watch the "Belle in the Library" deleted scene storyboard.

Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a well-made addition to Disney's Blu-ray Diamond Edition collection. I compared it to my older DVD version of the movie, and they really did an excellent job at making the picture quality even sharper, the colors brighter, and the music even more enchanting. The extras are nice to have as well, but just the stunning quality of the film is worth the price.

The Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition Blu-ray + DVD combo pack is available now, and a DVD-only version of the movie will be available next month. Don't wait to get your copy - like all Disney movies, they're only available for a limited time before they go back into the vault - and you don't want to miss your chance to own one of the best Disney movies of all time.

Full Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of the DVD to facilitate my review. However, the opinions stated here are still 100% my own and I know I could out-sing most of you on the song "Belle" because I sang it all the time in my car in high school. Wait...did you just call me a geek?

Friday, October 08, 2010

12 Weeks Until Christmas: Week 2 Closet Week (GIVEAWAY)

After week 1, are you now ready to tackle getting your house organized and ready for the holidays? OK, then it's time to start big with the one area we're all most likely to have disorganized: the closets.

It's true. When you have visitors five minutes away from your house and clutter in the living room, where do you stash it on short notice? The closet. When you need to get the laundry off the guest bed, where does it go? The floor of the closet, of course.

It's the perfect hiding spot for anything out of place, although it then becomes a black hole of out-of-place items, when actually your closets can be one of your best tools for staying organized!

So this week's challenge: clean out those closets and get them organized! And we've got tips from me, Lisa, Kelly and Heather to help you along the way.

Living room/Hall closet

The hall closet often has a mix of outerwear, family games, cleaning supplies and other random stuff crammed in it. So the first step is to pull it all out of the closet. Get yourself some boxes or laundry baskets to help you sort it all, along with a trash bag.

First, make sure all trash immediately goes into the trash bag: lost paperwork from kids' backpacks, a torn mitten, broken toys, or anything else that can no longer serve a purpose. Take anything that belongs elsewhere back to its proper place.

Next, take all out of season items (if you live in a climate where it gets cold) and toss them in one box or storage container. Sandals, sunhats, light jackets and anything that screams summer need to give up their spots to make room for winter coats, scarves and snow boots. If anything in the closet is too large or too small for anyone in your family, place it in a different box to either save for a garage sale or give to a charity like Goodwill.

Finally, put it all back in place. I like to use an over the door shoe holder to keep track of mittens, scarves and other accessories for my family, but small plastic containers can do the job, too.

Bedroom closets

Now is the time to tackle all of that laundry and store away clothing you won't need until it's swimsuit season again to make room for all of those wonderfully cozy sweaters. The hardest part for me is taking the time to gather up everything that I won't be using for months, make sure it's all washed and then store it away.

Now, laundry isn't my favorite chore, but it needs to be done. And when tackling a massive project like this, it's best to sort it all out into 1-load piles each, and set aside an evening or a weekend afternoon to get this done. I hate taking the time to pre-treat stains - or worse, re-treat stains and try again - which is why I'm a big fan of Tide with Acti-Lift. It's the best detergent I've tried at getting out stains the first time, while still keeping my clothing looking bright and new.

Also, when washing clothing you plan to store away, add just a little extra fabric softener in a scent you love. If you keep them stored in air-tight containers, your clothes will still smell fresh when you open them again. This year I'm using the new Ultra Downy Sun Blossom scent - when I open up the storage containers in the spring, I know I'll still have that fresh, just-washed scent to greet me!

We have several clear plastic storage bins in the back of our closet to hold out of season clothing and linens. The clear plastic makes it easy to see what's inside, in case you do need to break out short sleeve tops but aren't ready for shorts yet. If you don't have clear plastic containers, any other storage solution will do, but make sure you label the boxes or bins so you know where to find things when you need them.

Finally, the biggest hurdle of bedroom closets is simply putting everything in its place. Match up shoes and line them up or put them on a shoe rack. Keep all of your pants together in one area, skirts in another, tops and sweaters in yet another. You don't want to be frantically searching through your sweaters just to find the one little black skirt you stuck in the middle somewhere. If you share your closet with your spouse, assign each of you one side of the closet to keep your clothing sorted out.


We're going to get you ready to tackle all of that laundry in your closets with a little help from Tide and Downy! One lucky reader will win 3 bottles of Tide with Acti-Lift, as well as 3 bottles of Ultra Downy in the new Sun Blossom scent!

To enter, leave a comment below with your best organization tip for keeping your closets from turning into a jumbled mess. (mandatory entry)

For additional entries:

2. Leave a comment here with your best laundry or stain-fighting tip! (one entry - separate comment)
3. Follow me on Twitter @mommystory and tweet this contest leaving me a link here in the comments. (one entry)
4. Follow @Tide on Twitter and thank them for helping you get your summer clothing ready to be stored away with a link to this post. (1 entry - leave a comment here with you link)
5. Write a blog post about how you plan to (or already are!) getting your closets organized and ready for winter and link back to this post. (1 entry - leave a comment here with your link)

Giveaway will close on Friday, October 15 at 11:59pm ET. One winner will be selected by random drawing to win the Tide/Downy prize pack. Winner has three days after being contacted by e-mail to respond or another winner will be chosen in his or her place.

Full disclosure: This giveaway prize is being provided by Tide and Downy. I received no compensation nor was I given any free product. I just really like their products and reached out to them to join us in this series. Thanks, Tide & Downy!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

12 Weeks Until Christmas: Week 1, Getting Organized


The holidays are an incredibly stressful time for me. I'm not the best at getting organized, and far too often I've found myself frantically shoving clutter in boxes before family arrived or rushing out at the last minute for one more gift I forgot to buy. And it's not just one holiday I have to prepare for - we celebrate both Christmas AND Hanukkah in our family.

Well, this year I'm committed to getting an early start on the holiday prep work, and three other bloggers (Lisa from Life with Lisa, Kelly from 3 Boys & a Dog and Heather from Domestic Extraordinaire) are helping me - and you - get organized for the holidays. For the next 12 weeks, each of us will be hosting a different organizational topic, along with a giveaway as a little added incentive!

Here's a sneak peak at the schedule:

1.LISA – Week 12 – Get Organized Week October 2nd
2.CHRISTINA – Week 11 – Closet Week October 9th
3.KELLI – Week 10 – Don’t Forget The Computer October 16th
4.HEATHER – Week 9 – Travel Time October 23rd
5.HEATHER – Week 8 – Living Room October 30th
6.LISA – Week 7 – Kitchen declutter November 6th
7.CHRISTINA – Week 6 – Garage/Shed Week November 13th
8.KELLI – Week 5 – Thanksgiving is coming November 20th
9.HEATHER – Week 4 – Kids’ Domain November 27th
10.CHRISTINA – Week 3 – Declutter Week December 4th
11.LISA – Week 2 – Bathrooms December 11th
12.KELLI – Week 1 – Final Sweeps Week December 18th

So this week's challenge is to organize yourself in preparation for what's ahead. Some tips:

- Lists are your friends. Make your lists for everything you want to accomplish now. Plan who you will be buying gifts for and what they might like, list out what you'll have for your holiday meal and what ingredients you'll need, make a list of the parties you plan to attend, the chores you need to accomplish - anything that needs a visual reminder. Crossing items off of lists feels so good, too!

- Designate locations for gifts. Instead of buying gifts and stashing them in various places around the house, choose one box or closet to put everything in and remember to put it all there.

- Keep everyone in the know. Make sure all holiday events are clearly marked on the calendar, along with any information you might need to know. If your child needs to bring a gift for a gift swap at his scout troop's party, write it on the calendar. Find out when company Christmas parties are being held to prevent conflicts with travel or other gatherings.

- Establish a budget. Spending on gifts and food and decorations can really hurt your bank account. Determine ahead of time how much you'll spend, and stick to it. If you can, set some of that money aside now so you're not pulling out the plastic in a pinch.

How do you get organized for the holidays? Visit Lisa's post this week and leave your best tip for a chance to win a $30 Label Daddy gift certificate and an organizational prize pack from Carolina Pad!

Come back next week as I attempt to tackle the nightmare I call my closets!