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Photo Books – The Perfect Gift

Have you ever wanted to give someone special in your life a gift that would really mean something to them for years to come?  My family recently went to New York City and I wanted to put together the photos as a gift.  I chose to do a photo album, but not just any old photo album, one that is bound like a book and of professional quality.

Websites where you can create a photo book include Shutterfly.com, Costco.com, and Kodakgallery.com, just to name a few.  It is really not complicated and the finished products are amazing.  You get to pick the style of your book.  For my book, I used a travel theme for our New York City trip.  You upload your pictures and you drop them into a template.  If you change your mind you can replace the pictures easily during the editing process.  You can also add text to your photo album to describe the event or the people in the photo.  Once you are done, you order as many copies as you like and just like that you have your own professional photo book to give to your loved ones.

Photo gifts take a little planning ahead and time to complete.  I believe that you will find that it is well worth the effort once you see the pleasure of the person receiving it has in sharing the memories of special times captured in the pictures.  Mother’s Day is just around the corner.  Why not take some time now and create a one of a kind gift for the Mom, Grandma or special lady in your life?  You will be so happy you did!

March 25, 2011 · by The Zen Maker · in Home · Tags: ,

2 Comments

  1. Joe says:

    This is great info! I’d add some sample pictures of what the books look like to give a feel for quality. I’m definitely wanting to do this more with our photos, as otherwise they kinda sit on my PC and rarely get shared. If I had photobooks on the coffee table it’d make it much more convienent

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Holiday finds at Restaurant Supply

When you need something for your kitchen or for entertaining in your home, where do you go?  Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel?  If you would like an affordable alternative place to shop, I recommend your local restaurant supply company.  Most of these stores are open to the public and they have a lot of great items that can make your life easier during the holidays or when you are entertaining.

If you need extra wine glasses, silverware or serving pieces, the restaurant supply store has a variety to choose from at reasonable prices.  Also, if  you are feeding a large number of people, they have big restaurant sized pans, cookie sheets and platters. In addition to having these items on hand for the holidays, in the case of the wine glasses, they usually come in boxes that can be used to store the glasses when you don’t need them.  Two things that I have purchased there that help me during the holidays are stainless steel tongs which are about $2.75 and are the best tongs that I own.  I also have a large stainess steel sheet pan that I use to pour my homemade caramels in to cool.  I think that sheet pan ran me about $9.00, but to me it is priceless.

In addition to having regular kitchen items, these stores carry items that you don’t find in regular kitchen stores but you may find helpful.  One of these items is a sign holder.  You find these at buffet dinners and they have a small sign telling you what food it is you are about to enjoy.  Using sign holders to identify which food has nuts or which punch has alcohol can really make your party go smoothly when entertaining a lot of people.  They also have professional grade stainless steel tables, storage racks and bag sealers.  Some of the items could be used in your kitchen or in other parts of your home such as your garage or craft room. 

The next time that you need an item for your kitchen, think about venturing into your local restaurant supply company.  Spend some time looking around at what they have available, you never know what you might find that will make your next holiday party a lot easier on you!

1 Comment

  1. Kristen says:

    Great ideas! I will have to go in there sometime.

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Organizing big events with less stress!

Have you been to an event where it seemed like the person who organized it forgot that they were having guests?  It is understandable that at big events such as weddings, baby showers or graduation parties that it is all about the people being honored.  However, if when you are planning a party or an event and think about it from the point of view of the people attending, it can make it more enjoyable for everyone involved.  

Here are some tips to consider when planning an event or party:

*How is the parking for your guests?

If you are holding an event at a venue, is parking included or are your guests going to have to pay.  Is there enough parking and how close is it?  Are people going to have to walk a mile in fancy shoes to get to where the event is being held?  I attended a wedding that was out in country and the bride and groom hired a shuttle service to get their guests from their hotels to the wedding location and then back again.  This was a thoughtful service that made the event that much more enjoyable. 

*What about the weather?

How likely is it that it is going to rain?  Do you have cover for people to stay dry?  Is it going to be sunny and hot and will there be shade?  Do you have elderly guests that will need to be out of the sun and may need air-conditioning? 

All of these things are very important to the enjoyment level of everyone attending the event.  It may mean renting an extra tent or some fans but it will be money well spent so that you are not worried about it during the party.  Also, think about having beverages available to help alleviate the either cold or hot that you cannot control.  Coffee and cold water that is readily available can go a long way in providing comfort to your guests.

*Think about starting on time.

Right after the weather and the parking, the time that the event starts and if it starts on time is a major factor in whether your guests enjoy themselves.  A few minutes is not a big deal but when you start 20 minutes, 30 minutes or 45 minutes late, it can put a damper on your party.  For some events, this is not a factor because people show up and the party starts whether you are ready or not.  However, some events don’t start until you say they do and this is where you should think about getting it started as close as possible to the time on the invitation.  Some people have hired babysitters or have something to do after the party.  Be respectful of your guests and their time by not starting late.

*Think about getting some help.

When we are the host of an event, we sometimes feel obligated to do everything ourselves.  However, delgation can be a helpful skill in having a successful and stress free event.  Not only can family members help but you can also enlist an event organizer, wedding coordinator or personal assistant.  A big event is full of people that you have not seen in a long time.  It is a chance to visit and catch up with them.  If you have too much on your plate with the organizing and running of the event, it can decrease your enjoyment a great deal which in turn decreases the enjoyment  of everyone at the party.  Someone who you hire can be completely focused on running the event so you can attend the event.  It can make the difference in whether you come away feeling good or exhausted never wanting to host anything ever again.

What other tips do you have when organizing a big event?  Have you had an experience either going to or hosting an event that you will soon not forget.  Let me know!

1 Comment

  1. Kyle says:

    Those are some really good points. I have been at some events that could have definitely been better organized. Also, I noticed that I appreciated an event recently where they started on time because I had to leave a little early.

    I agree that it is good to remember what sort of guests you will have, too, as you said about potentially having elderly people who may have distinct needs.

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Improve your drive to work and de-stress

What do you listen to during your daily commute?  Is it your local radio station with your favorite music or the local news?  Would you like to read more and just cannot find the time?  I have a solution to maximizing the time you spend in your car going back and forth to work.

My solution is listening to books on CD.  Now, if you are a person that is easily distracted or has trouble listening and concentrating on driving, I don’t recommend this.  However, if listening to a book while you are driving is easy for you, you might consider it.  I find that it helps me de-stress and moves me into relaxation mode.

While books and CD can be expensive if you buy them, your local library has hundreds of books on CD of all varieties.  No matter what type of books you enjoy reading, the library probably has several that will meet your needs.  Also, with most libraries, you can reserve what books you want online and then pick them up at your convenience when they are ready.

My current favorite books are Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Infinite Possibilities by Mike Dooley and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.  Have you started listening to books in your car?  Have you found that it helps you de-stress?  If so, let me know!

2 Comments

  1. Kristen says:

    What do you think about podcasts? I have listened to them a little bit, and I wish I had the chance to listen to them more. They are usually pretty quick and a good way to hear some news while you are at it.

  2. Yes, Kristen, I love podcasts and listen to them while I am cleaning the house and walking the dog. It is a great way to multitask and get information while you are doing your chores. The great thing about podcasts is that there is an endless variety of topics and information to choose from. Another plus is that there are a lot of podcasts that are free. Something that I do is download podcasts from non-fiction authors that I am reading to get the most up to date information on what they are doing. They usually provide updated techniques and theories which extends the learning curve. Podcasts add another option for getting information that you can listen to while you are doing something else.

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TIVO – Your new best friend for saving time

If you watch television at all you probably know that all those commercials add up to a lot of wasted time.  The average half-hour television show is actually only twenty-two minutes long and the average hour show is forty-four minutes long.  That means that for every hour of television you watch, sixteen minutes of it is time watching commercials.  We all have our favorite shows that we watch and if you would like to maximize your television watching experience, I recommend TIVO or a digital video recorder. 

Here are the benefits of using a TIVO:

*When you record your show, you can fast forward through the commercials saving a lot of time.

*You can still watch your shows when they originally air.  You can start recording your favorite show with your TIVO and wait ten to fifteen minutes.  You can then start watching it from the beginning and then skip all the commercials.

*You can records two shows at the same time.

*You can record one show while watching another show.

*You can watch your favorite shows when you it is convenient for you.

*You can pause anything you are watching at any time.  This is espcially nice if you have children.

*You can rewind anything you are watching if you miss something.  This is espcially nice if you have children.

*You don’t miss your favorite shows when you have something else to do because your TIVO records it for you.

*The TIVO is easy to set-up to record and you can get a season’s pass that will record every episode of your favorite show.

*If you are surfing and find a show that is in progress that you want to see in its entirety, TIVO can search to see if there are other showings of that exact show so you could record it from the beginning.

What TIVO tips do you have that help you to maximize your TV time?

September 30, 2010 · by The Zen Maker · in Entertainment, Home, Time Savers · Tags: , , , ,

2 Comments

  1. Kristen says:

    I also recommend Hulu for online TV-watching. There are commercials but they are short, and most shows are available there (or on the specific TV channel’s website). The big advantage is being able to watch what you want to, when you want to!

  2. That is an excellent point Kristen, especially if you watch a lot of your television on your computer.

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Cell phone de-stress

Are you handcuffed to your cell phone all week and then all weekend long?  Do you take it with you to the bathroom to check your e-mail?  If you do, you may need to manage your cell phone instead of letting it manage you.  Remember the old days when phones were not mobile?  You could have some peace and quiet to drive your car or have a relaxing dinner.  Maybe you don’t remember those days because you were born in the age of technology where we are all connected, all the time.

The stress of always being connected to the world around you is well-known but do we do anything about it?  If you would like to try, I have some suggestions for you.

*Consider turning your work cell phone off when you are off of work.  I know that some people have to be on call but really examine if it is necessary for you to be connected and instantly responsive to every request, all day and all night.  Think about if your employer pays you to work all those hours.

*Try putting your personal cell phone in a basket with your keys by the front door or somewhere out of your direct view in the evening.  You can leave it on so if it rings you can get to it but it is out of sight so you don’t feel the urge to check it all the time.

*Try leaving your cell phone in your locker when you go to the gym.  Don’t you deserve to have an hour of uninterrupted time to take care of your health?  You can deal with whatever shows up on your phone when you are done.

*Think about getting a watch.  Watches have become a thing of the past because we all have our cell phones attached to us with the time.  Getting a watch allows you to know what time it is without looking at your phone because once you look at it, you will want to check your e-mail or something else on your phone.

*Think about turning your cell phone off completely on the weekends.  You may only be able to do it for a couple of hours at first but you may want to try to work up to an entire day without your phone.

Give just one of the tips a try and see if you feel less stressed.  If so, you can add on and try another one.  If you slowly change your habits, it will be easier than going cold turkey.  Think about what you could accomplish with the extra 20, 30 or more minutes a day where you use to be checking your phone.

What do you do to disconnect from your cell phone?  Let me know!

September 27, 2010 · by The Zen Maker · in Stress Reduction · Tags: , , , , , ,

1 Comment

  1. Kristen says:

    I think I avoid this problem (at least with my phone) because I don’t have a smart phone. I find that I am in front of my computer most of the time, anyway, so I check my email nearly constantly without having a phone with the ability to do that too. Some people need to have that ability for their job, but I suspect that many people do not and could simply downgrade to a simpler phone that just makes phone calls. It is cheaper, too! That way when I am actually free from my computer, I can’t check my email, so I am not tempted.

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Why you have to have the right tools

My vacuum and I have had a rocky relationship for over 10 years.  We have had fights, disagreements and flat out assaults.  My vacuum could do 2-5 years if ever brought to trial.  I am also not the only one who doesn’t like it, my dog hates my vacuum and he has always been a pretty good judge of character.  If he is home when I vacuum, he barks and bites at it thinking that he will win the battle.  Unfortunately, neither my dog nor I have ever won the battle or for that matter the war with the vacuum.

Every year after Christmas, it goes on strike after the multitude of  needles from the tree have clogged it up.  We go through the same routine where I have to turn it over exposing its dusty underbelly and take it apart.  The vacuum doesn’t seem to  appreciate the invasion of privacy and usually retaliates with pinching my finger in some manner.  The expandable hose that allows me to clean the corners and crannies is a major source of conflict.  The problem is that it doesn’t expand.  When I pull it out and reach to get the dirt in question, it pulls the vacuum onto my head leaving me with a nice bump and usually some sharp words.  It is heavy and a bit like lugging around a packed piece of luggage over your carpet. 

I once owned this vacuum in part with a roommate.  When we moved into our own places we had to divide the things we bought together, which wasn’t much.  When it came to the vacuum, there was not a lot of debate.  My roommate said, ”You take the vacuum.”  To which I asked, “What do you want in exchange?”  They replied, “Nothing, you can have it.”  In my opinion, this was one of the smartest decisions my roommate ever made.

Every year at Christmas, especially during our post Christmas fight and cleaning, I promise myself to get a new vacuum but I have yet to do it.  I have checked out Consumer Reports on vacuums, looked at them at the store and tried out various vacuums at my friend’s house.  I have oogled and admired many a vacuum at Costco.  If someone is talking about a vacuum, my ears perk up and sometimes out of the blue I will ask my friends, what do you think of your vacuum, do you like it?  Once they hear my story, the understand my plight.

Maybe this will be the year of the new vacuum.  Just writing this makes me want to once again check Consumer Reports and see what’s new in the vacuum world.  The moral of this story is to have good tools at your disposal.  You have heard the saying, if all you have is a hammer, everything becomese a nail.  Well if you don’t have the right tools, chores become more of a chore.  You also waste money on something that is not ideal and someday you will spend more money to replace it or will suffer with it to get what you paid for out of it.  From my experience, whether it be a vacuum, a rake, a garbage can, a mop, a printer or a watering can finding something that is easy to use and durable will make you happier when having to do household chores.

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The joy of a clean car and not doing it yourself!

I recently treated myself to having my car professionally detailed.  I have spent many hot summer days vacuuming, washing and wiping down my car.  I always love how it feels the next time I get in and it is spotless.  This time, I decided to let someone else use their elbow grease to make my car sparkle and I was not disappointed.

The detail shop did the standard wash, vacuum and clean.  However, in addition, they cleaned the nooks and crannies that collect dirt and are tedious to clean.  They also waxed my car which I never do, even though I probably should.  Another plus was that I dropped it off and went to work and picked it up at the end of the day.  No waiting around for me so it saved a lot of time.

Sometimes it is good to treat yourself.  I highly recommend taking cleaning and washing the car off of your to-do list once a year and indulge in having it professionally detailed.  The detail people really know their stuff and have great tools.  Another side benefit is that after you pay to have someone detail your car, you are much more diligent in keeping your car clean on a daily basis.

September 22, 2010 · by The Zen Maker · in Time Savers · Tags: , , , ,

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Getting online recipes in line – finally

Most people who cook today in the technological world we live in, get recipes online.  It is convenient and people post how they liked the dish, whether it is too spicy or bland and how easy it was to make.  People also list additions, subtractions or problems that they had with the recipe which can save you a lot of time and energy when making it for the first time.

I usually print the recipe to put into my recipe holder and at the same time, I copy and paste the recipe into an e-mail that I send to myself.  It is important that you don’t just e-mail the link to the recipe.  A lot of websites that provide recipes give you an option to do this but a lot of them do not allow permanent access to their recipes.  Instead, they are just available for a period of time.  I keep a folder in my e-mail marked recipes and I always put the recipe title on the subject line.  I have found this to be very useful for many reasons. 

If something happens to the printed recipe, you always have a copy to refer to and reprint.   Also, if anyone wants a copy of your recipe, you can just e-mail it or print it for them on the spot.  If you put all your recipes in a folder in your e-mail, you can use the search function on your e-mail to find a recipe quickly. 

I hope that you will incorporate my technique of e-mailing your online recipes to yourself and keeping an e-mail folder for them.  I think you will find it to save a lot of time, energy and unneeded searching when you need to get down to the business of cooking.

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Pantry and refrigerator lists

One of the ways that I stay organized is by creating lists of the regular items I keep in my pantry and refrigerator.  The lists are alphabetized to make items easy to find and placed on the fridge door or on a hook in the pantry.  Putting the lists in plastic covers and putting a sticky note on top makes it easy to write down items as you run out.   If you create the lists on the computer, it is easy to update them when you need to add a new item that you are consistently purchasing.  

The time and energy it takes to create the lists pays for itself with less trips to the grocery store mid-week to pick up an ingredient that you forgot for that night’s dinner.  It also saves a lot of time when making out you grocery list and when planning your meals for the week.  Another advantage of keeping a well-stocked pantry, is if you end up having one or two unexpected guests during the week and need to pull something together at the last minute. 

I hope that you will consider taking the time to create pantry and refrigerator lists for yourself and see how easy it will make keeping your home stocked and ready for anything that comes your way.

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