Friday, December 5, 2014

Gifts and Giving: Getting Creative with Gift Wrapping

I love gift wrapping. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the excitement of the anticipation of what's to come, or maybe it's just another thing that allows me to be creative and have fun. Sometimes the gift wrap is left plain and sometimes I embellish with ribbons, bows, homemade tags, or whatever interesting tickles my fancy.

Last year at Christmas, I added a variety of scrapbooking embellishments to my gifts from lettering to snowflakes. It's fun, and it's a good way to use up extras and leftovers from your crafting supplies or reusuables that become craft supplies.

A friend of mine is also very creative and whenever I receive a gift from her it's usually in a recycled container or wrapping, and there is always something extra attached to the package. The extra may be a dried flower, or a little jingle bell - simple little touches that make the parcel all that more special to receive.

Certain items have always presented a challenge to wrap and have required some ingenuity on the gift giver. Lately, the trend to reuse and recycle seems to have more and more people thinking about ways to cut back on paper waste.

Below is an article originally published on Helium in November 2009 to address alternative ideas for presenting holiday and other gifts.

Creative Gift Wrapping Ideas

Wrapping gifts is, for many people, a labor of love. Finding the right paper, trims and tags, and gussying up your carefully selected presents can be just as exciting as watching your friends and loved ones opening them. Keeping a ready supply of gift wrap on hand can get expensive, but there are number of creative ways to wrap gifts with materials you already have at home.
Reusable tins and canisters are great for holding a lot more than just holiday cookies and candy. Clean them carefully, dry thoroughly and then paint them with spray enamel to use in place of paper-based gift boxes. You can further decorate them by using stencils to create a design on the surface. Another way to decorate them for holding gifts is to use decoupage.
Small items such as earrings can be placed inside little origami boxes made from recycled paper. There are a variety of styles of origami boxes in different shapes from the basic square to triangles, hearts and stars. Choose one that is best suited for your gift. Large grocery bags and heavy weight magazine pages such as the ones used for perfume samples and old greeting cards are well suited for origami boxes.
Paper grocery bags can also be opened and used for wrapping gifts. Use rubber stamps, stencils or stickers to create decorative patterns suitable to the occasion to create unique wrapping paper. Turn leftover lunch sacks turned into gift bags by adding handles from ribbon or pipe cleaners and decorative trim. Alternatively, in place of handles, fold the top of the lunch sack down two to three inches against one side of the bag. Use a single-hole punch to place to holes through all layers of the paper flap one inch from the top edges and thread ribbon or yarn through the holes and tie to make a closure.
Old clothing can easily be recycled into reusable gift bags and pouches. Unused, headscarves, handkerchiefs, tea towels and table linens are also suitable for wrapping gifts. Use an envelope or simple clutch purse pattern as a guide for your fabric pouch. You can also use a paper lunch sack as a template to create a pattern for a reusable gift sack. Longer pieces of recycled fabric can be used to create unique ribbons and flowers for embellishing wrapped gifts. Create ribbon by folding a long cloth strip around fusible web and ironing.
Newspaper makes great gift wrap. It's practical and eco-friendly and, since most people have a ready supply on hand, it's convenient and cheap. For a personal touch, use the Sunday comics when wrapping gifts for kids, the fashion section for teens and the sports pages for budding athletes. Use ribbons, lace, buttons, costume jewelry or strips of paper to embellish the news wrapped gifts. Patterned stationery is another great stand in for store bought wrapping paper and is ideal for wrapping small boxes.
With a little thought and rummaging around you can find all sorts of materials around the house that are suitable for wrapping gifts. Your packages will have their own unique style and friends and family members will praise your creative ingenuity.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Not Your Grandma's Christmas Music

It's that time of year (again) where Christmas music is blasting from everywhere you turn. It's enough to drive you crazy if you're not that into it - and I am not all that into it, especially if it's muzak versions. While there are a number of very pretty songs associated with the holiday season, such as Carol of the Bells, Oh Holy Night, and so forth, some are just downright obnoxious, especially when you're hearing them over and over and over and over.

One less painful way to endure Christmas music is to listen to recordings that are strictly instrumental, that way you can have holiday music on, but tune in and out without it distracting or bothering you too much through the day. Somehow it's less grating on the psyche when there are no vocals in the music (I know, I know... don't tell the other vocalists), and the words are less likely to be stuck in your head all day (which can drive you crazy even more).

Even better than all-instrumental Christmas music, is when your holiday tunes are all about the swing! Below is an article written for Helium back in November of 2012, and if I do say so myself, I think it's one of my best. Enjoy, and keep swinging!

The best Jazz Music Recordings for Christmas

If swing is your thing, you’ll no doubt be looking for recordings of Christmas music that reflect your tender bopping sensibilities when the winter holiday period rolls around. No Jazz lover’s holiday could possibly be complete without the quintessential seasonal recordings of some of the best to ever grace the bandstand.
There are a number of holiday CD compilations that have been put together since Jazz’s resurgence in the 1980s. One of those is the recording God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen, which features six tracks from six artists, including the incomparable tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and the transcendent pianist McCoy Tyner. Tunes included are "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," "I’ll Be Home For Christmas," "The Christmas Song," "Our Little Town," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings of Orient Are."
Also from the 1980s, another must-have is New Orleans-born trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ Crescent City Christmas Card, which features the award-winning trumpeter reading The Night Before Christmas. There are 13 tracks in total on the recording, which also features performances by Todd Williams, Alvin Batiste, Joe Temperley, Wessell Anderson, Wycliffe Gordon, Marcus Roberts, Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley and Ben Riley. Kathleen Battle is a featured guest on traditional holiday favorite "Silent Night," and Jon Hendricks joined the ensemble for "Sleigh Ride."
The Nutcracker ballet is synonymous with the Christmas season; its well-known music is heard everywhere during the holidays, from television commercials to the speakers in shopping malls. No jazz lover’s holiday could possibly be complete without the Duke Ellington recording of Tchaikovsky’s famous Suite, which is available on the release Three Suites, from Columbia.
A Christmas collection of Jazz wouldn't be complete without at least one album from the father of Jazz himself, Louis Armstrong. While it's not strictly a collection of Christmas songs, Christmas Through the Years, a recording made not long before Armstrong's death, features “Pops” on The Night Before Christmas. Other options for an Armstrong Christmas include the recordings What a Wonderful Christmas, and The Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong Christmas Collection.
Last, but most certainly not least, not even Scrooge himself could resist the urge to bob his head and tap his foot while listening to An Oscar Peterson Christmas. It features fourteen fabulous tracks including "What Child Is This," "I’ll be Home For Christmas," "Christmas Waltz" and "Away in a Manger."
These recordings from some of the most significant players in jazz history are guaranteed to make the season bright with swing.