How To: Mail Christmas Cards

step 1: Order (bid on) 30 used Christmas cards originally created and sent in 1944 (or any ebay cards will do).

step 2: Buy glitter. Lots and lots of glitter. Throw in a bit of paper, some paintbrushes, glitter glue (yes, they make glue specifically for glitter), and get your addresses in order. (I promise you are missing a few.)

step 3: Cut the 1944 cards apart with the front page separated from the rest of it. Sometimes you can get multiple "front pages" out of one card.

step 3: Resize store bought blank stationery to fit the 1944 cards, because they are sooo not the same size. You will probably need to figure out how to rip in a straight line, since the blank stationery doesn't have a straight edge. Don't mess up! (You may think you have more cards than you need, but you are sooo wrong!)

step 4: Find the envelopes you used for thank you notes when you got married, since you never used them all. (Plus, they are made out of fancy, thick, textured paper that matches your the stationery you are gluing the 1944 Christmas cards to.)

step 5: Figure out how to type your home address on the envelope flap so that it is centered with a typewriter. Get your husband's help, because he's good at math and you don't feel like wasting tons of expensive envelopes (or your time).

step 6: Type your address on the back of 40-some-odd envelopes thinking that is enough (or too much) since you only bought 30 cards on ebay.

step 7: Glue the front of the old 1944 cards to the front of your new cards. Hopefully it looks pretty.

tip: Rubber cement the back of the image and the front of the card where you want the image to go. Wait until the rubber cement FULLY dries. When you go to place the image on the card, you will be able to move it around like a sticker if you mess up. (Also, don't ask Justin to show you this technique.)

step 8: Pull out all of your stamps. Since you are using older "vintage" stamps, you will need to add up the cost of postage for each envelope. Plus, you will want to pick color schemes that match your cards. This will only take a few hours.

step 9: Get the husband to tie ribbon around some of the cards to dress them up. Discover that despite having taught you how to tie a perfectly flat ribbon on wedding invitations, he has somehow lost that skill. Realize that you will be doing the tying –along with everything else that makes these cards special and unique– by yourself

step 10: Time to glitter! Screw up the first few cards with too much glitter before you decide to make a trip to Wal Mart to buy paint brushes. Use aluminum foil and put the tiniest bit (not too tiny!!) of glitter on it. (Use different color glitters if you have them.) Water down the glitter glue so that not all of the glitter sticks to the card. (Too much glitter looks like a 4 year old did it!) Tap your paintbrush in the glue, dab the brush on a paper towel (or foil) to get most of the glue off and then stick the brush in the glitter. Paint on your card. Smaller brushes give you finer detail and fan brushes allow you to create specks of falling snow.

step 11: Write something sweet in all of the cards.

step 12: … After 4 days of working on the cards, be excited to finally finish! Put everything up. Then receive an e-mail with 2 more addresses and realize you have to pull it all back out again. *groan*

step 13 (the most important): Be unable to sleep and go crazy because the dining room is a wreck until you finish. Stress out. Pull your hair out. Scream. Cry. Wish you had started this project 5 weeks earlier. Then be glad you finished before your husband completed his 3-day holiday cake. ;)

I think I'm going to fall asleep now. :) Maybe I'll show you some of the DSLR card images after Christmas.

Scenes From A Christmas At Our House

Last year Justin and I spent our first "married" Christmas together. We argued over whether or not to buy a real tree… (We did.)

Then there was the decorating…

Our tree was made up of turquoise, red, white, and blue. (American much?) I couldn't find the perfect tree topper and so rather than settling for something else we used this teddy bear instead. It's cute… it's blue (and white)… it works!

Still broke and without a beautiful tree topper one year later (my apologies to the bear, who obviously has feelings and is sad I didn't call him/her/it beautiful), we have resorted to cuteness yet again this year. I don't mind, and I feel like our tree topper sort of begs to ask the question: why not? Why can't people have a creative tree topper? Why must it be an angel, star, or bow? That's so…boring. (Yes, the bear did tell me that!)

We had to buy all new ornaments last year (being our first Christmas and all), but, luckily, a few friends gave us some as well. Of course the ornaments we were given had to go up on the tree this year.

(Ok, so we were given more than 2, but the other ones were having a bad hair day.)

And then, since we knew our color scheme for this year, Justin and I bought this beauty in Asheville, NC to hang on our tree. I love that it is handmade by a local artist. (Actually, I'm guessing all of the ones I've shown so far are handmade by local artists…)

Moving on from the tree…

Last year, we had gorgeous cards that I made from a picture I took shortly after the Christmas Justin proposed (and it snowed for the first time in like 100 years in Georgia at Christmas time). Well… with all of my snowy, Christmasy pictures gone (due to the 2013 hard drive failure), I had to get a little bit more creative this year. (Not that I wasn't creative last year!)

I went onto ebay and bought some vintage 1940s cards which will be my next big project to tackle tomorrow. I'm turning those old, used, vintage, Christmas cards from the 1940s into new, awesome cards (using glitter and a typewriter) that will be mailed using vintage stamps. (Yes, I am that creative AND awesome! You only wish you were getting a card from me!) 

Aren't they gorgeous??! (Aren't you jealous?!) I really just want to keep them all for myself. :)

Unfortunately, I'm pretty late in the sending cards game this year, and I will be lucky if any of my cards make it where they are going before Christmas. Oh well. I'm certain my friends and family will simply swoon when they see these gorgeous pieces of artwork. –Ahem. Cards, I mean.–

And presents?!…Don't even talk to me about presents. We bought real ribbon in green, red, and turquoise and some beautiful vintage looking wrapping paper from Target. Oh and buttons! Yes. Buttons. I am SOOOO EXCITED to get started wrapping presents. I just know they will be gorgeous. (Maybe I should just keep all of the pretty boxes too!?)

So that's what Christmas looks like at our house. Vintage. Pretty. Inspiring. Creative. Enchanting. And Blue. With a bear on top. (I think a cherry would get moldy. Eww…)

Yes, Justin and I are pretty awesome. :)

This may be my last post until after Christmas since the card-making, gift-wrapping, baking-and-cooking extravaganza is about to begin. If it is, I send you (even if not in card form) all of my love, hugs, hope, and joy as you prepare for and enjoy the upcoming holidays with friends and family. 

If not, and I do get the chance to post again, I'll call you a lucky duck (My posts are awesome.) and wish you a Happy holidays all the same! :)

** Check out 31 Days of December Blogging prompts here!

A Few Tough Questions: Finance Update 2013

I suppose it is a good time to go ahead and do a final finance update/review for the year 2013. That was one of our/my new years resolutions, and if you don't look at where you've come from and see where you are you will never know how to improve. (That's what blogs are all about, right? Improving yourself?)

As I was reading the blog Budgets Are Sexy, I just knew that I had to approach this blog post in exactly the same way. He answered two questions: What went well this year? and What did not go well this year?

Obviously, my financial goals are at a much smaller level, (i.e. I don't have any numbers that are around 330k), but I still feel these are good questions to tackle especially if you are considering expenses that you CAN control in comparison to those that you CANNOT.

Where are we?
- We currently owe about as much as we did last year. :(

- We have about the same in savings that we did last year at this time (based on memory).

You don't see the difference because I changed checking/savings accounts like 3 times or so and deleted them from Mint. (In other words, the increase you see in savings from June was money that was already in an account… it was just moved to a different account. Does that make sense?)

That is more like what our assets look like. (I took Justin's accounts out of the mix, because they don't count… and will be used to pay bills/pay down credit cards.) Please note that major expenses ONLY come from the savings account; it's not like I just spend lots of money for fun on a whim while I claim to want to save money. Often times, even if we would like more money in these accounts (there are multiple), we are frequently grateful that we have what we do and are able to cover emergencies and surprise expenses as well as we can.

- Our spending to saving ratio:

The biggest fluctuations are in the months we had the biggest expenses: car repair and plane tickets.

Overview of the biggest impacts on our finances this year:
1. In January, there were some yearly expenses we weren't (I wasn't) prepared for. Money came out of savings to pay for them.
2. New glasses were bought in March…
3. Followed by furniture, a rug, and things for the guest bedroom in April/May.
4. Then there was the camera…
5. We went on vacation in July to New York City, Boston, and Charleston…
6. but when we got back we had to pay car repair expenses in August as well as for tags (which we hadn't saved up for).
7. That same month we were approved for 2 credit cards that would hopefully help us save money (mainly interest fees).
8. We went to Chattanooga in October.
9. In November I lost my paycheck to student loans (meaning nothing was put in savings). We also bought plane tickets and went on a short trip to Asheville.

So where were the downfalls? What went wrong this year?
1. Not saving enough to cover yearly expenses. Not being prepared… or perhaps aware of where our money was going.
2. Being newly married and starting a home together. Obviously this was out of our control, but if you don't have furniture, you can't host guests. Plus, the lack of furniture makes one's home seem… unappealing and cold. You don't feel comfortable being in your own home.
3. Buying a camera so that I could photograph a wedding… and then having the lady respond that she found someone "cheaper". I should have had a signed form in my hand prior to buying the camera, but I was on a short time constraint and preparation is the key to success.
4. Needing to get my emissions done. We saved for all of the vacations, but we weren't prepared to fix my engine light or the astronomical cost associated with it when hardly anything was wrong with the car. *shrugs*
5. My mistake in purchasing plane tickets. We knew the cost was coming, but we weren't expecting me to screw up the actual purchasing of them. (Better luck next time? Learn from your mistakes and become a better person because of them?)
6. Getting used to paying with credit cards. It is CRUCIAL to stick to one's budget when paying with credit cards. Hopefully, it will save us money in the long run (interest fees, rewards).
7. Budgeting. We would improve and then get worse. It was definitely a roller coaster.

What went right this year?
1. TRAVEL! Justin and I may disagree on this, but I really had a lot of fun exploring and photographing. Our biggest vacations were saved for, and our smaller vacations weren't that expensive.
2. Getting 2 new credit cards. We did a lot of research before signing up for these, and we are glad that they have saved us money in the long run (and improved Justin's credit score).We are hoping the rewards will also benefit us and make finances easier when they come in during the early part of next year.

See how our interest payments have gone down (in a badly photoshopped graph)?

3. Having furniture. It makes it easier to host guests and enjoy our time at home.
4. Having a newer camera has made photography just a bit easier.
5. We have plane tickets to Europe!!!
6. I got a lot of odd jobs toward the end of the year making the duvet I wanted cost only $25(!!), getting a (new) Nest thermostat for $40, and allowing us to buy a few gifts for free. :)
7. Justin started biking reducing our total gas bill and getting him in shape. Unfortunately, it came with a few "upstart costs", but overall (I think) it has saved us money.
8. We reduced the cost of a few of our bills. Yay!
9. We thought ahead by buying Christmas and birthday gifts when they were on sale months ahead of time and even stocking up on things like toilet paper when it was on sale.

So, What are our plans/goals for next year?
1. Save more money. We may have random furniture purchases, but we shouldn't have quite as many as we did this year. It would be nice to end next year with extra money in our savings account.
2. Make more money/Get rid of excess "things". We have a lot of things that could be sold or gotten rid of packed away in my parent's basement.  It would not be very difficult to simply list the objects on ebay and see what happens. At the very least, we wouldn't have to worry about storage space.
3. TRAVEL! Duh! We're going to Europe to explore with some friends for 2 1/2 weeks. (Those 2 1/2 weeks were hard to come by, so I am going to take full advantage of every last second!)
4. Pay off more debt. We have at least one car repair in our future, along with travel expenses, and possibly (hopefully) a wide angle lens purchase before we travel. Can we pay down debt too? I'm hoping…
5. Focus on the food budget. It is our worst enemy.
6. … I can't come up with a #6. :-/

How have your (new year) financial resolutions worked out for you? Have you looked back yet to see what you need to work on? Or what you are happy with?

2013 Overview

I do a year overview every year and this year is no exception. (See last year.) I feel like I'm doing it a bit early this year, but I'm just following along with the 31 Days… :)
January - I started out the year with a a bit of shopping at Anthropologie (here, and here) BuyTrends, and ASOScooking from the Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking, and obsessing a bit over Sue Bryce. Overall, it was a pretty boring month, but, as I'm sure you can tell, I had a wide variety of awesome inspirational influences available to me. There is nothing quite as wonderful as roaming about in a beautiful dress, eating delicious food, and enjoying pep talks from an amazing photographer. (You might just have to take my word for it!)  

February - February got a bit more exciting. Justin and I hosted our first dinner party (if you don't count family), and babysat a 3 year old for a week all the while dealing with frustrating car problems and a computer hard-drive and back-up drive failure. On the upside, we bought some awesome silverware to be used with our china when we have guests over! Yay! And I spent a LOT of time watching CreativeLive Photoshop week. (I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to obsess over something that has the potential to make you better at a task, do you?) 

March - We stayed pretty busy in March preparing for guests that were coming to stay with us in May for a wedding. Trips were made to Ikea, Home Depot, Anthropologie, Bloomingdales, Ocho, and my parent's house in preparation. Our one year anniversary fell on a Sunday this year and rather than celebrating like any normal couple, we babysat for some awesome kids. One of my favorite things to do that month was putting together a cookbook of cupcake recipes I wanted to try! That has definitely been an inspiration as we figure out what desserts to conquer for birthdays and the holidays!

April - April came much sooner than expected this year; all of a sudden it was time to pull Julia Child's cookbook out and attempt some delicious bread and treats for Easter, one of which could not have been created without the help of a friend who obtained a French translation for me.We started preparing for summer by purchasing some amazing tomato plants from Costco that lasted us all the way into October! (Can you believe that?) Then Klout provided us with the opportunity to get a large Van Gogh print for free to be displayed in our living room from Zazzle! (How awesome is that!) We continued preparing for our guests by buying more furniture for our living room and some carpet from Dalton, GA. All in all, it was a busy month that went by super fast.
May - It was almost time for our very first overnight guest to arrive and we still had a lot to get done when May began (see here, here, and here). Of course, the week the family was suppose to arrive it was decided that we would also be hosting our very first party! (Ack!) One of the worst (and best) moments though was when I bought a new camera in preparation for a wedding I thought I would be shooting. It definitely kicked our finances back, but I feel it has only benefited my photography development in the long run. Plus, the JoTotes bag I bought!! – LOVE!! 

 (iphoto quit working on me, so importing instagram pictures became a pain.) 
June - With our overnight guests (and all that came with it) no longer an issue, Justin and I were able to focus on spending time with people we hadn't seen in a while including my grandparents. I got to experience Zach Sobiech's Clouds for the first time and enjoy the inspirational message that came along with it all before… I washed my cell phone. (Washing my cell phone might be one of my proudest moments in this lifetime!) Justin and I also started taking dance lessons and preparing for TWO trips that would happen in July (here and here). 

July - Our first trip was the week of July 4th when we went to Charleston, SC for a few days with my parents. While we were gone, our alarm inside our house went off and the cops were called cutting our trip a bit shorter than anticipated. Luckily nothing was taken! Before we knew it though, it was time to head off to New York (and Boston) for the week with Justin's parents! I got to meet Justin's dad's side of the family for the first time in the upwards of 8 years I've known him, so that was exciting (and a bit nerve-wrecking). To end the amazing trip-filled month, I celebrated my birthday with some of my favorite people at my favorite restaurant and spent a day exploring downtown Atlanta and the aquarium. The month truly could not have ended on a better note. 

August - With August signalling the end of summer, it was time to start preparing for returning to my "winter job" and Justin no longer got to enjoy his "half-day Fridays". :( Since our whirlwind of July trips were past us, we decided to start thinking about our first trip overseas that would be coming up in 2014. We wanted to get some new credit cards, an ipad, apply for GOES, and obtain our passports. I hosted my first giveaway on the blog! YAY! And we ended the month by celebrating oh so many birthdays! Ahh! You have no idea! :) It was definitely a busy, expensive month that we were glad to put behind us when September came. 

September - In September, I participated in my first blog challenge which was really a lot of fun and gave me a chance to think about my writing style rather than just figuring out what I was going to write about. Plus, it gave me the chance to meet lots of others who were also participating in the challenge! I don't remember doing a whole lot in September, but I do remember toward the end of the month venturing off to Chattanooga, TN to spend a day taking pictures and exploring. While we did have a great deal of fun doing that, I think it only served to make us want to return for a longer period of time and do even more. (If you give a mouse a cookie…

October - I really focused on my photography in October beginning with spending some time using Dan Margulis' methods. I followed that up with watching Jack Davis on CreativeLive as he showed his viewers how to use ACR. But in order to have more photos to edit, Justin and I really needed to get out of the house and explore the beautiful fall weather in Chattanooga, once again. One trip in September just wasn't enough! So we went back and got to see the awesome Booker T. during the fabulous Rvr Rox show. The trip and experience was really a lot of fun, but it definitely gave me my fill of Chattanooga for a while. The nice bit about the trip was that we achieved gold status with IHG and enough points for some free nights (which we quickly took advantage of!). Before the month ended, we went to shoot some hot air balloons at the crack of dawn in the freezing morning air. I had a lot of opportunities to photograph during October, and I am so very grateful I did. It was fun and something I will look back on with fondness… always. 

November  - After the conclusion of October Daily, me and a few of the other participants contributed prizes to my first ever group giveaway! Plus, I didn't stop there: I also hosted my first large scale giveaway with prizes going to 16 winners! When I wasn't blogging, I was practicing my newfound editing skills… and going to Asheville, NC to practice my shooting (and shopping) skills at the Biltmore Estate. One of the most exciting things I did was to purchase plane tickets for our trip overseas as we planned out our visit to France, Germany, and Italy. I ended the month by being grateful for all of the wonderful things that have happened this year and the people who have made it fantastic. :) 

December - While this month is only half over, I am definitely looking forward to the later half the most with Christmas and New Years only two weeks away! (Can you believe that?!) I started the month off shopping, as all the best months should start (except when you are trying to save money!!), sending out giveaway wins using cute Christmas stamps, and then I began the 31 day challenges that have included a lot of lists thus far. I've shared with you my favorite Christmas songs (even going so far as to tear one apart), my favorite Christmas movies, my favorite pictures from this year***, and now… my yearly overview. :)

Phew! After 4 "vacations", lots of shopping, lots of picture taking and editing, and a ton of giveaways, I think I can officially say that 2013 has definitely been a good, albeit busy year. I am very much looking forward to 2014 as I am certain it will be even better!

So what are your highlights from this year? Did you do anything particularly exciting? Is there anything from 2013 that you will be sad to let go of as we move into the new year? Are there any changes you are hoping to include in your new year of plans?

** Check out 31 Days of December Blogging prompts here!
*** Can I edit my favorite pictures of the year?! I've changed my mind! :)

Do They Know Its Christmas Pt. 2 – The Controversies

Now that you have the history behind the making of the song (which was totally not my original reason for blogging yesterday), let me start talking about a few of the controversies caused by the song (which was my original reason for blogging yesterday).*

I rarely post anything political on this blog with good reason. I am not a political person, but I felt that one particular controversy, relating to the lyrics, was more of an artistic than political decision that was one I wanted to address. (Why? Because it's my blog and I can talk about whatever I want!)

But first, here are the political controversies I brought up in yesterday's post that may/may not be relevant to today's post:

1. Was the 1984 Ethiopian famine caused by African leaders (as opposed to the natural, biblical famine suggested by news reports of the time)?
2. Did Bob Geldof choose to create "Do They Know Its Christmas" for publicity reasons as opposed to actual concern for the African people? Was he trying to create interest in himself or his dying band, the Boomtown Rats?
3. Why is Midge Ure frequently forgotten as co-writer and producer of the song? Why did Bob Geldof take over during award ceremonies when accepting awards for this song (and other charitable events related to the two men)?
4. Did all of the money from the Band Aid fund go strictly to providing food for those who needed it most or did it go to African leaders? Was the money used to fight possible oppression felt by the Ethiopians of the time? And if so, was the funding clear to donors about where their money was going?
5. Was the visit to Ethiopia made by Bob Geldof for publicity reasons? Was the argument with his publicist a way to make him seem more charitable?
6. Were future fundraising efforts by Bob Geldof also for publicity reasons including the LiveAid concert and "We Are the World" song creation?
7. Why were the lyrics so badly written? Did Geldof really believe there were no rivers, rains, or crops in Africa? What about the lasting effect that has created on the Western civilizations that now hear the song on the radio? Did he really want the people that heard the song to "thank God" that it wasn't them suffering? … Are the people in Africa always afraid? And what about Christmas? Do they celebrate?
8. Why did Geldof feel the need to create a song to make money for the cause? Why didn't he just donate his own money to said cause?

I don't have answers to most of these questions, and I imagine it would take a lot more research looking back through historical evidence and possibly some time speaking to Geldof and the celebrities involved to discover what was really happening during the winter of 1984 and spring of 1985. It would require resources and time that I simply don't have. Having not even been born at the time all of this was occurring, I can't even really speak from the point of view of someone that was there. Nevertheless, I do feel that the lyrics, while not exactly poignant, should be considered for what they were and not what they ought to be… mostly from a non-musician artistic point of view that is the only one I have to offer.

My first assertion is that Geldof wrote this song within a month's time. He wanted to do something about the famine in Africa. Granted he could have contributed his own money, which as a singer and musician I'm sure he had plenty; however, if you think about it as I'm sure he did, having a lot of people donate to a cause that will get it much further along and provide more money than a one time large contribution. Unfortunately, merely asking people to donate to a cause is like pulling teeth. We all have causes we feel strongly about, but sometimes it's hard to give money when there is so much more that you want. You want a house in a subdivision with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids a'la the American dream, and the one thing getting in your way is money. Can you afford to give to a charity and send your kids to college? And if you don't have to see the starving people in Africa or wherever, even if the thought of giving crosses your mind for a mere second, you may get busy and forget that you ever even considered giving. Thus, I believe, one of the best ways to obtain money for a charity is to provide something in return. By giving of their time, I feel that these artists were doing something greater than anyone could or has given them credit for.

I'm a member of a number of photography support groups on Facebook and I constantly see these issues being tackled on a day-to-day basis. For example, you have this great photographer friend and you invite them to your child's birthday party and say "bring your camera". You want the photographer to come and take pictures at the party for free because "its easy" and "why should you pay them for shooting when its something they enjoy doing?" So, let's say the photographer comes and does this: shoots your child for free, then spends hours afterwards editing the images and sharing them with you. Who is paying for this photographer's livelihood? Maybe you paid for their piece of pizza and birthday cake, but how will they afford groceries? Can they afford rent?

So when I think about all of these artists flying in to Notting Hill on a cold November day for something they would not be paid for, I don't really consider the publicity that they will get from doing this. It is time spent away from their family and friends to do something that they usually get paid for (and need to get paid for in order to live comfortably).

But back to Geldof… His lyrics had to be something that all of these artists would agree to sing. It would be a complete waste of time to bring all of these artists in to sing a song that was too political (or not political enough) that either made the artists feel discontent or the possible future listeners too depressed at Christmas time to buy. If no one bought the album, then the time the artists spent recording would be a complete waste. I'm going to give Geldof a bit of credit here, because I imagine this was an incredibly difficult task. How do you tell the masses that there are starving people in Africa without belittling the artists or being overly political? You graze the topic.

When John Lennon wrote "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" he said that the best way to be political was to add a bit of honey to it. The Vietnam war was not even over when this song came out (a surprise to me). I think the same is true with Geldof and "Do They Know Its Christmas".  He was political without actually claiming that African leaders were to blame. It was merely a case of "look this is what's going on; let's do something" as opposed to him actually meaning that "no water, crops, snow, or rain exists in Africa".

The thing is, as gracious and honey-coated as Geldof was trying to be by not blaming African rulers, he also had to make a point to the people he was trying to reach (i.e. Western civilization, the people who supposedly had money). I think that's where "pray for the others" and "thank God it's them not you" came from. Is that anything like Mary Poppins wherein "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down"? If nothing at all is wrong in Africa, why should people donate? … Why was this song even made?

Of course, many people say that if Geldof was trying to make money for the cause why would he forever instill in our brains the impoverished nation of Africa? Why not give the lyrics a time frame, so that we don't constantly look at Africa as a society that needs help since they don't have food or water? Inevitably, that's exactly what this song does when it's played year-after-year. I'm not sure how long the famine lasted, but I can guarantee you that nearly 10 years later when I was just a child, I was still hearing ideas in the Christian community about how Africa needed food, water, and money. The general idea was that, as children we were told that when we got old enough we could go to Africa as missionaries and help others, because that's all Africa was. (Well, that and lions.)

While I do think Geldof could have provided a time frame for his song, I also approach this issue knowing that he wasn't even expecting this song to sell as well as it did or continue to be played on the radio for years afterward. How was he to know that we would still be playing the song on the radio in 2013? It was written to aid a small portion of a country during a specific time period before the collapse of the American economy. (In other words, Americans and Europeans had a lot of money, and needed causes to spend their money on.)

I do disagree with the newer (later) recordings of the song, though, and that may be where the real controversy with this idea lies. Should this song have been rerecorded not once but twice using the same lyrics and ideas as the first song conveyed? Were they trying to make money for charity off of the already popular lyrics? Would a newer, more updated version raising money to feed people in all areas of the world have sold as well or better than the 1984 version of this song? There's no telling. But I do not feel that this song should be recorded by other artists to make a profit or even sung as if it is a choral song from church. This song has only been around for 30 years and was made for a reason. By taking it out of that context, of course you are going to suggest things that aren't true and abuse the meaning behind the message this song was trying to convey.

Finally (or at least my last topic of this post) is that of Christmas. Do Africans celebrate? Are they Christians? Was this song written for Christians?


My viewpoint is that the song was meant to be a Christmas song. It doesn't really matter what viewpoints Africans or any other listeners have. Christmas, in today's society as much as Christians don't want to believe it, is about a way of life during a specific time of year. Maybe it's a feeling… or merely a state of mind? Or maybe Geldof was referring to the overwhelming number of Christians one finds in the Western nations? Either way, Christmas is typically a time of giving and caring about others. It's the time of year when we are most likely to attend church, spend time with our family and friends, and do something charitable. This made it an ideal time for Geldof to record and sell this song/album. Referring to Christmas was a great reminder and invitation to those listening to go out and spend money on others during the holiday season.

And there you have it: my viewpoint on the history and controversies of the hit Band Aid song "Do They Know It's Christmas". I'm sure, as I said before, with more time and resources I could probably write a whole thesis on this song, why I think it is appropriate, how happy I am that it made people think about being charitable and feeding the poor, and how upset I am that others would ever try to re-record this song destroying the meaning behind it. I realize I didn't cover all of the controversies or answer all of the questions I've posed, but I'm hoping that you have at least learned a little something about this song and perhaps decided how you feel knowing what I've mentioned (even if you disagree with my opinions). Maybe you weren't aware of all of the controversies behind it? Or perhaps the artistic decisions behind the lyrics were something you hadn't considered before now?

Ahh… well! Tomorrow's post will be back to normal! Aren't you relieved?!

Have a fantastic Thursday! :)

*See yesterday's blog post here.
** Yesterday's and today's blog posts were written as a free-flowing thought process that was not meant to be a dissertation or thesis in any way. If I have misrepresented any facts, people, or moments in the song's history, feel free to let me know. I am not perfect and given that these were written over the course of two days, neither is my writing or research.

Anthro Giveaway

You know how much I love giveaways, right??!?

And Anthropologie?!

Well, this is just a quick heads up that today Anthro is having a 20% off sale on jewelry…


Behind the Dressing Room Door (an awesome Anthro blog) is having a giveaway!

But just because I'm telling you about it does not mean I want you to go enter. I really want to win one of the gift cards myself. :)

Do They Know It's Christmas – The History

A few days ago I posted a listing of my favorite Christmas songs. Without a hard drive full of music, I actually spent a lot of time searching google and youtube for the songs I remembered the most and best from Christmases past. During the search, I found a tremendous number of the same songs being sung by different artists. I remember having this problem back before getting married; sometimes it is difficult to decide which version of a particular song you like best. Another problem I found when compiling my list of songs was choosing songs that were meaningful in some way; what made these songs stand out any more than any of the others? You can only hear so many versions of "Jingle Bells" before it all starts to sound alike.

I could go through my list of songs and explain to you the choices I made, but I think my post from last Thursday does that well enough on its own. It's quite clear that I tend to prefer choral Christmas songs with a bit of pop, piano, and Christianity thrown in. Instead, the song I want to focus on today is Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas".

I've actually done a lot of research on this song since my original posting, and I've been somewhat surprised at what I've found. Before last Thursday, I knew the song as a song that was frequently played on the radio. I wasn't really aware of the lyrics or the reasoning behind the song and, to be honest, I probably couldn't have told you anything about the "band" behind the song. A big eye opener was when I took the time to read the Wikipedia page on the song followed up by the Song Facts webpage. The thing about the internet is that you never know if what you are reading is fact or fiction. So after I finished with those webpages, I had to keep reading… and then I spent another 2 hours (or so) watching Youtube footage of the making of the video and that of the LiveAid concert. Then… that led to reading about "We Are the World", another song by Bob Geldof. And then… a bit more about Africa and the Ethiopian famine. It just kept going on… and on… and on.

Here are a few things I've learned:

1. Famine is bad.
2. Artists don't always like to work together… even for a good cause.
3. People don't always give to a good cause unless they feel they are getting something in return.
4. Motto from the '80s: Go BIG or go home. (Hair, make-up, clothes, personalities)

So as it turns out, there was a particularly bad famine occurring in Ethiopia in 1984. I haven't figured out if it was the result of extremist ruling in Africa at the time or if it was something else, but I'm leaning towards the first. Either way you look at it, one of the biggest controversies related to this song was whether or not the song actually aided the African people (specifically Ethiopian) in getting the help they needed. Yes, millions was raised for the cause, but where did it go exactly? To the rulers who were causing the famine? Or to the people who needed the help? Beyond that, was this song meant to promote the celebrities involved including Bob Geldof whose own band, the Boomtown Rats, was slowly disappearing from existence? Or were these celebrities truly participating to promote a cause greater than themselves?

The story goes that Bob Geldof was watching the news with his family one night in October 1984 when a story came on about a famine in Ethiopia. In the story, a 21-year-old Red Cross nurse was shown who was having to make decisions about which people she could help save given her limited resources and which she had to turn away because they were too sick or elderly and would most likely die anyway. (Can you imagine being 21 and having to make those life or death decisions for others?) Apparently Geldof, after seeing the news report, decided it was time to do something, so he called up a friend whose name I don't recall (another controversy) and they decided to write a song and bring a bunch of artists together to support the cause. They needed big names in order for the album to sell, and if they wanted the song out before Christmas they had to work fast.

While I'm not too certain of the time span, fairly soon after coming up with the idea, Bob Geldof was suppose to go on a radio show to promote an album he was working on with his dying band; instead of talking about the new album though, he shared on the show about how he was working on Band Aid to promote the Ethiopian cause. Even before a single celebrity had agreed to participate, Geldof was making history by promoting a song that wasn't even in existence yet. Would he be able to pull together the bands he needed to make this song, this dream, come true?

From what I understand, it was very iffy up until the day of the recording. Geldof and co. managed to snag a bit of free time in a recording studio in Notting Hill for the recording of this song. He had asked a number of singers to come record voluntarily and then it was a waiting game to see who would show. Luckily, whether through fear of Geldof, desire to be charitable, or whatever, a number of celebrities did show up in studio that day to record "Do They Know It's Christmas" including Paul Young, George Michael, George Boy, Bono, and a bunch of other artists. They began by singing the chorus "do they know it's Christmas" and "feed the world", parts added to the song last minute. Then each artist, one by one, took a turn singing the song in it's entirety with all of their competition watching and judging their every word.

After all of the celebrities left for the day, Geldof had limited time to finish compiling and mixing the many voices in the song as well as putting together a short music video for tv. With the recording having taken place on a Sunday, their goal was to have the album (song) finished and available in stores by the Tuesday following. In actuality though, the album was released on Thursday instead.

The song quickly rose to #1 in the UK although it never made it to #1 in the US (due to different rules for getting to Billboard's Hot #1 status in comparison to those of the UK). The album sold millions of copies worldwide and made lots of money staying at the top of the charts for about 20 weeks only dropping down when a new song by Foreigner was released. Even more exciting, was that artist George Michael of Wham!, having participated in "Do They Know It's Christmas" had also just released his own Christmas single "Last Christmas" in which he donated all proceeds from the sale of to the Band Aid fund.

This is where many of the song's controversies begin:

1. First, Bob Geldof argued with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about where the VAT money should go. He told her in no uncertain terms that he felt the taxes should go toward those dying in Ethiopia rather than the government. Obviously she disagreed but relented when the public made their opinion clear.

2. Then, Bob Geldof refused to go to Ethiopia to make sure the funds were going where he announced they were. He was afraid his publicist was trying to make a spectacle of him. In the end, Bob Geldof did go and was made a spectacle of, but it also gave him a chance to see how difficult it was for those that lived in Ethiopia. This made him more determined than ever to continue fighting for their rights. He is even said to have told off an Ethiopian government official because of his disagreement with how Africans were being treated whilst wearing socks for the meeting since his own shoes had been ruined.

3. And one of the key controversies that has me writing this post is that of the lyrics.

1. I don't know if it snows in Africa, but it could.
2. Do they celebrate Christmas in Africa? Are they Christians?
3. Does no food grow there?
4. Is the world outside my window (and throughout Africa, really) actually filled with fear?
5. Do all of the Christmas bells in Africa sound like doom? Do they have Christmas bells?
6. Are all the people in Africa hungry?
7. Does it really never rain in Africa? Are there no rivers there either? Is the continent not surrounded by water?
8. They get no other gifts ever. Just life. That's all they deserve really.
9. The sun: it BURNS!! (That must be why there are no crops.)
10. Thank God it's them and NOT me!

I don't actually have time to do so today, but I'm certain I could write a whole other post on these (sometimes false) ideas that stem from the lyrics. Generally, my thoughts are that it was 1984 (nearly 30 years ago), and the song was written and put together very quickly in the hopes that not only would people participate and give of their time freely but also that the public would buy the album supporting the cause. I have to agree with the most hated lyric in the entire song though in that if I had been alive at that time I probably would have been thanking God it was them suffering and not me. (I'm sorry, but it's true! Sometimes the truth hurts!)

Anyway, that's as far as I am going to go on the history of this song and the controversies behind it for today. I hope you learned a little something, and perhaps tomorrow I will conclude with my feelings about the lyrics and how it led to this whole other period in the '80s where LiveAid and "We Are the World" were put together. For now, I will just say that I have learned a lot about this song and the reasoning behind it enhancing my enjoyment of the original 1984 version of the song and making any other version (by the Barenaked Ladies, Band Aid 20, or any other choral group) less appealing. (Although I may have listened to this song too much in the last few days and I might just be happy to never hear it again while still respecting it for what it did. *sigh*)

Happy Wednesday all!

And as always, feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

13+ Fantastic Christmas Movies

There have been a large number of lists on this blog as of lately, but with Christmas coming and the new year around the corner, I suppose it is inevitable.

Unlike my favorite Christmas tunes, I can almost guarantee you that the following list of movies will not be watched this year. I don't really watch movies often, and Christmas movies are no exception. This list of movies is, however, a selection that does remind me of Christmas whenever it is that I do get around to watching them.
1. Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
(Home Alone)

(Home Alone 2: Lost in New York)
If there are any Christmas movies that stand out from my childhood most vividly, it is this series featuring Macaulay Culkin. The Christmas music is superb, the concept of a child defending himself and getting lost in New York at Christmas time is spectacular, and who can forget the two bad guys – Harry and Marv? If you have never seen this movie, I highly recommend it for Christmas time or any time really! :)
2. The Family Stone
I really can't imagine a more perfect re-enactment of what Christmas is like for a completely dysfunctional family. (Aren't we all part of one?) The large array of well-known actors and actresses may have encouraged you to see this movie, but the comedic aspect will keep you entertained throughout. 
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas Live Action/cartoon
Before Universal put out the live action version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, it was Christmas tradition to watch the cartoon version on television every year. I'm not entirely certain which version of this story that I like the best. Both versions are adorable with Cindy Lou Who and all of the people in Whoville reminding us that perhaps Christmas is more than gifts under the tree.
4. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
While this version of Miracle on 34th Street is not the original, it is the one I grew up watching and thus the one I most associate with Christmas. The story is a beautiful one about the belief of a young girl, her mother, and a lawyer who fight for the rights of a Santa Claus that will inevitably bring a miracle or two into their lives.
5. The Santa Clause
Guess what? Tim Allen killed Santa. Or something like that. What happens when you kill Santa? Your whole world turns upside down. Somewhere between the weight gain, super-fast beard growth, and present delivery, Tim Allen (aka Scott Calvin) and family must figure out how to fit a new career into an already challenging world.
6. A Christmas Story
To be honest, this movie… Ummm… no. I always saw it as incredibly stupid and thus hated it. I can't say my feelings have changed over the years, but, as circumstance would have it, A Christmas Story is a movie that my husband's family loves to enjoy every Christmas. As soon as I figure out why, I'll come back and share. Until then…
7. The Polar Express
This was an amazing book from my childhood, so I was very excited when I discovered it was being made into a movie. The movie was made very well with beautiful music and incredible visuals; however, despite how well made this movie was, I encourage you to check out the children's Caldecott award winning book of the same title by Chris Van Allsburg. A movie can only do so much for a well-illustrated children's book.
8. Prancer
Apparently there are a lot of Christmas movies with little girls as the main characters; Prancer is no exception. When a young girl stumbles across a reindeer, it takes a lot of belief (and patience from her family, friends, and neighbors) to get the reindeer back to health and back to Santa.
9. The Holiday/Sleepless in Seattle/While You Were Sleeping

(The Holiday)

(Sleepless In Seattle)

(While You Were Sleeping)
When I was trying to pick out my favorite Christmas movies and looking at google lists, all of the above movies were mentioned. While they didn't come to my mind initially as Christmas movies, after seeing the titles listed, I couldn't think of them as anything but Christmas movies. All are romantic comedies that take place around Christmas time and just make you feel good even if they don't offer the most surprising of endings.
10. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town/Frosty the Snowman/Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
(end scene of movie)
I truly cannot imagine a Christmas without this series of cartoons being shown on tv. They are the staple characters of Christmas that every child knows and loves. Plus, the movies are short enough to distract without encouraging tons of tv time. Would it really be Christmas without these delightful characters and stories in our memories?
11. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Following the above cartoons on my list is the Peanuts in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown and friends feel that Christmas is over-commercialized. Everything Charlie Brown does is wrong including picking out the Christmas tree. It all works out though when Linus shares the true meaning of Christmas with Charlie Brown, and everyone comes together to make Christmas special.
12. A Mom For Christmas
(first part of movie)
A Disney original made-for-tv movie featuring Olivia Newton John, Doris Roberts, and Juliet Sorci, the story is about a young girl who wants a mom during the Christmas season. It is yet another Christmas miracle story. Now that I am a bit older, the movie seems a bit scary with mannequins coming to life; what were they thinking when they made this movie?! How many kids has this story freaked out?
13. The Night They Saved Christmas
ad from 1983
Starring Jaclyn Smith, June Lockhart, and Art Carney (big stars in the '80s?), this Christmas movie is my mother's favorite Christmas movie, and thus we watched it every year. When the Baldwins move up North, so that Michael Baldwin can dynamite looking for oil near the north pole, he is unaware that he could be endangering Santa Claus. Chief elf, Ed, comes to take Michael's wife and children to meet Santa Claus and prove to them all that Santa is indeed real and that the dynamiting needs to stop before any more damage is done. Trouble strikes when the kids go out on their own to visit Santa and warn him of pending danger; the kids get stuck in a thick arctic fog keeping them from returning home prior to Christmas eve, the exact day Michael's team is set to dynamite North Pole city where they are. If Michael allows the dynamiting to continue before his children are found, it is quite possible that he will kill those he holds dear (his children) and ruin Christmas forever.
What movies come to mind when you think of Christmas? What are your favorites to watch at this time of year? Have you seen any of the ones I have included on this list? Are there any you think I should have included? Share in the comments! :)

** Check out 31 Days of December Blogging prompts here!

My Top 3 Favorite Photos of 2013

My challenge for today was to consider my top three favorite photos that I have ever taken. Due to the great hard drive crash of 2013, my choices were fairly limited to images shot this year. Luckily, I have taken a few that I am proud of and do not mind posting again.

1. Sunset at Biltmore – Taken at sunset while stalking the Biltmore Estates, I love this Christmas scene. I almost feel like parts of the image look illustrated and not real. I can't imagine a more beautiful sunset to have captured of this beautiful historic home.
2. Atlanta View – For Justin's birthday we celebrated by taking a walk around Atlanta and discovering the many views of the city. This lingers behind as one of my favorite shots from the day taken with my cell phone! I used old editing techniques to bring this image to life, but I still come back to it frequently as one of my favorite shots of the year. Would it be better with any new editing techniques I've learned? Perhaps. It's hard to say.
3. Charleston Florals – This image was taken over the summer during a vacation to Charleston most likely inside a hotel. I took the image using old camera techniques and edited it using newer editing techniques, which I feel really gave this image the sense of beauty I was seeking and unable to achieve with older techniques. Is it as interesting as the architectural shots above? No. I still think it would be beautiful as a large canvas print hanging in someone's house though.
In the spirit of the holidays, if you find one of my original blog posts featuring any one of the above images, be the first to leave a comment below and I will send you a printed copy of your image choice. :)

Hope everyone is having a fantastic Monday! :)

** Check out 31 Days of December Blogging prompts here!

Favorite Clothes & Laundry Soap Giveaway

One of my current favorite outfits is one I was able to put together after I bought this Free People top from Bloomingdales during their Black Friday sale:

As I'm sure you read in my latest set of reviews, the Yummy Dobby Whistle While You Work tunic is super comfortable, soft, warm and I love the color. I think it may be my favorite color to wear, because it works so well with my skin tone.

While the model paired her shirt with leggings, I prefer my dark Paige skinny jeans. They are comfortable and fit me well. They may actually fit me better than my Rag and Bone jeans which is surprising since I've found that usually Paige jeans are for taller people. The ones in the image above are not exactly the same as what I have, but I can't find my exact pair online. :( I bought mine from Nordstrom Rack.

I also can't find my boots online anywhere, but I think that is more understandable since my dad bought them for me from some random cheap store in the Atlanta area that I would never be able to find again if my life depended on it. The boots above are very similar and currently found on ebay. (Can anyone explain to me why heeled boots are out of style now?! It makes me sad.)

When I put all of the pieces of my outfit together, I feel cute, comfortable, and casual. I find myself wearing the outfit while lounging around the house, going shopping at the mall, or even going to a family style restaurant for dinner. I love that people compliment the combination, but my outfit, on the whole, doesn't stick out too much screaming "look at me!" I'd never wear it if that were the case! :)

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images via Visual hunt / No known copyright restrictions
In order to keep my outfit looking it's best though, I use Fels Naptha laundry soap. I've found that some laundry detergent can irritate my skin, but this soap works well making laundry a much cheaper task and preventing weird smells (read: lavendar, citrus, etc…) from forming on my clothing. Plus, it gets rid of stains, because why would I use it if it didn't?

Here's the recipe Justin and I use for making our laundry detergent with Fels Naptha. It works quite well and takes minutes to put together. Plus, the savings are tremendous!

If you would like to try the Fels-Naptha bar of laundry soap, leave a comment below sharing one of your favorite home remedies for cleaning any area of your house (not just laundry). I have one coupon to give away, and I'll choose a winner next Friday, December 13.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck! :)

*I was given a coupon from Purex to try the Fels Naptha bar and give away, but all opinions in this post are my own. My husband and I were using Fels Naptha soap before I was provided with this opportunity. :)
** Check out 31 Days of December Blogging prompts here!