Needle-felting Basics: Felted Acorns

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What is needle-felting? It’s the process of taking clean, carded wool roving, basically a big fuzzy lump of hand-dyed fiber, and using a long barbed needle to repeatedly poke and shape the wool into a tightly compacted 3-D shape. The compacted wool is much denser and is now what we commonly refer to as felt.

Creating needle-felted acorns is a simple jumping-off point for your introduction to the craft. Now is the perfect time to learn, as fallen acorn caps are at their most plentiful, and felted acorns are a wonderful addition to your fall and holiday table-settings and displays.

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Gathering Acorns – Look out, squirrels. You’ve got some competition.  Hunting for acorns is a great excuse to get outside and enjoy nature and fall sunshine. It’s also an opportunity to pick up some of Mother Nature’s other craft supplies: pine cones for holiday decorating, colored leaves for pressing, and fallen branches of birch or red dogwood for spruce pots in December.

Drying Acorns – Once you’ve gathered your acorns, drying them is an important step.  There are many crafts that involve using the whole acorn. But for needle-felted acorns, you will only use the caps. I throw the meaty nut part out in the yard for the squirrels. I will defer to my friends at wikiHow for a simple explanation of the washing, and oven-drying process.

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Supplies – There are many places to find needle-felting supplies. I purchase my supplies from Dream Felt on Etsy. I prefer to felt with Norwegian Wool, as it’s coarse and easier to work with. The super fine Merino wool, is so incredibly soft and perfect for fine details, but it’s not recommended for making acorns.  Dream Felt has a wide variety of Norwegian wool in gorgeous hand-dyed colors. The owner sells her wool in complementary color packs or individually.  There is also an autumn collection, which gives you a nice selection of autumn colors: burnt umber, deep orange, rich yellow, forest green,  and chestnut brown in a bundle.

Acorn caps

Wool –  .5 – 1 ounce each of 3-5 colors of wool for fall colors

Needles –  38-gauge is a medium, all-purpose needle and 40-gauge is for finishing

Foam Pad – provides a surface to felt on so you won’t stab yourself

Clear Tacky Glue

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, you’re ready to start.

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Felting  – The amount of fiber you pull from your roving (pull, don’t cut) will depend on the size of your acorn cap. I generally don’t use the fuzzy variety, as they make a mess. But otherwise, acorn caps come in sizes varying anywhere from a pinky nail to larger than a quarter. I’ve created a video on YouTube, which will demonstrate the process of creating an acorn from beginning to end. The video will give you a good visual of the ratio of wool to use in relation to the size of the acorn cap. I create both a medium and micro acorn, but you’ll also see an example of the large cap as well.

Once you have the loose wool, you roll it between your thumb and forefinger into a small cylindrical shape. Keeping it pinched between your thumb and finger, set it on the foam and hold it there.

Use the 38-gauge needle in your right hand (assuming you’re right-handed) and start poking. You will want to poke about ¼ to ½ of the way down into your wool. Not all the way through. Go slowly at first, until you get the hang of it. This will reduce the likelihood of overzealously poking yourself with these sharp needles. It happens. I speak from experience. They do sell leather thumb protectors, but I find them awkward, and like more control over the wool. If you’re worried about poking, you can use Band-Aids on your thumb and forefinger on your left hand. But just starting slow should do the trick.

As you’re poking, you’re also gradually poking and turning the wool into a chubby cylinder shape. It should be loosely packed at this point. Start to round off one end of the cylinder and flatten the opposite end. Keep placing the chubby little acorn nub into the cap until it’s slightly bigger than the inside of the cap.

Squeeze a dollop of clear glue inside the cap. Then squeeze the flat part of the acorn into the cap, pushing it flush with the inside. Now you poke, poke, and poke some more. It’s probably over 200 pokes. I’ve never counted. Trust me. It’s a lot of poking.  The video will give you a good idea, but once you feel more confident, you will achieve a nice steady rhythm and it will go much more quickly. Your poking now is to refine your acorn’s shape and tightly compact the fibers. You’ll notice the acorn becomes lighter the more you felt. Finally, when the acorn feels solid, you’ll use the 40-gauge needle to make shallower pokes all around the acorn to create a uniform smooth felt surface, and tame any stray “hairs.” And  you’re done. On to the next one!

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Given the repetitive, rhythmic nature of the poking and forming of the wool into the felted shape needle-felting is incredibly relaxing.  It’s the perfect craft for multi-tasking, so you can feel less guilty about spending an entire rainy day binge-watching The Affair or season six of The Big Bang Theory for the third time. At the end of the day, you’ll actually have something to show for all the couch-surfing you did.

Be sure to watch the instructional video that accompanies this blog to see the fall acorns come to life!

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Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, loves multi-tasking. On Sundays, she is watching football, her fantasy football match-up and needle-felting.

 

Fall Decorating: A Feast for the Senses

Fall is a feast for the senses. It evokes all the sensations of warmth, welcome, comfort, and nostalgia that surrounds this time of year. Many of life’s most cherished rituals take place in September and October: school starting, football season beginning, celebrating homecoming. For those old enough to remember, there is the visceral smell of burning leaves, or chimney smoke, beckoning one home to a hot Sunday dinner, of chili, hearty stews, squash with brown sugar and butter, homemade desserts of apple pie and pumpkin bars.

As daylight savings time ends and night falls quickly, deliciously scented candles, with enticing apple pie, caramel, and mocha scents, brighten rooms and fill them with comfort.  Making our homes cozy, feathering the nest, is a tradition that many of us look forward to the moment the calendar page turns to September.

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I made the trip last week to the Junk Bonanza, an annual fall mecca of vintage and repurposed treasures. Everywhere I looked there were wonderfully imaginative displays, featuring vintage and repurposed decor, and fun flea market finds.  It was the ideal place to spot some of fall’s biggest decorating trends in vintage home style.

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An Abundance of Arrangements Perhaps no other occasion but Christmas rivals fall for decorating with fantastic floral arrangements. The opportunities to create autumnal wreaths, centerpieces, garlands, elaborate pots and swags are endless, as are the vehicles for containing them.

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At the Junk Bonanza I found this fabulous antique canister, (originally used for twine in corn harvesting, I’m told) that was perfect for the tall dried flowers I harvested from my perennial garden. Before tossing the remnants of your garden or pots, harvest what you can for  arrangements. Dried cornstalks, cattails, ornamental grasses, withered stems of brown-eyed susans, and sepia-toned hydrangea heads are perfect for tall canisters. I have a pot of ornamental peppers, in maroon and gold sitting beside the canister, which complements it nicely.

Pillows & Throws Throw pillows made of old feed sacks, bedspreads, and old flannels are all the rage this season in earthy, muted tones of cheese cloth and burlap. The Pendleton blanket is having a huge moment this fall, which is wonderful to see. Pendleton is a family-owned company, started in the early 1900s, known for its heavy wool blankets inspired by Native American designs. They are prized for their vivid colors and intricate patterns. Like many vintage pieces, Pendleton blankets have come to symbolize American heritage, authenticity, and craftsmanship.

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Found Items from Nature A huge trend that I’m seeing everywhere from blogs to magazines to store windows are naturally shed antlers and faux taxidermy. For instance, I have a pink plaster unicorn head mounted on the wall in my bedroom. I’ve seen amazing trophy deer crafted from sweaters.  You can even find a mounted stag head at Target, and antler decor, as well. Another popular item theme is integrating craft store tail feathers of pheasant and grouse to your decor, bringing that cozy hunting lodge feel to your home. Pine cones, acorns, vibrantly colored leaves, gourds, pumpkins, indian corn, dried sunflowers, artichokes, small heads of flowering kale, all can be used to make charming autumn vignettes. 14468682_1549844185041747_6543987827821308043_o

Mixed Materials  I saw so many fabulous pieces of barn wood made into everything from mantels to dining tables. Metals, woods, tin art, architectural objects, scrollwork, doorknobs, drawer pulls, hand tools, old troughs, all of it rusted, repainted, embellished, or as is. Jumping on the monogram trend, letters in every conceivable material were available to make reclaimed items even more meaningful. A lot of the more utilitarian objects were softened by adding repurposed decor, such as pumpkins made with wool sweaters, chenille, velveteen, and lace, which made a lovely juxtaposition.

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Nostalgia The season of Halloween brings out the kid in us. It’s hard to tell who actually enjoys dressing up more these days, children or adults.  I know that I’m am not immune to the joys of decorating with witches and black cats. But over the years, I’ve evolved from paper and plastic ghosts and goblins, to a more primitive, hand-crafted Halloween look that incorporates retro style with recycled and vintage materials. Again, each of these pieces is evocative of simple delights, whimsy, Americana, and the pleasure of hand-crafted items that many of us enjoy.

The great thing about decorating for the season, rather than the holiday, is that you won’t have to rush on November 1st to take everything down. That means more time to nestle up under a cozy Pendleton throw and bask in the glow of your charming fall home.

Smart Perks Blogger Melanie Bisson, is always a sucker for a kitschy vase. For more fall decorating ideas, check out the Smart Perks Pinterest page, Fall Decor Inside and Out.

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 The next Junk Bonanza will take place in Portland, October 14-15th.

Check out https://www.instagram.com/purplepincushion/ for some great hand-crafted and repurposed items.

 

 

Simple Heartastic Valentine’s Crafts

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Have you ever heard the saying, “Valentine’s day is a Hallmark holiday?”

Humbug!

With winter raging outside, what could be sweeter than a day spent in the craft room, making pretty things, and reveling in all things heartastical? That’s a word, right? Well, it should be.

Some people dream of warm, sun-drenched escapes. I dream of a dining room table covered with pretty papers, colorful ribbons, rubber stamps, felted wool, and lots and lots of glitter.

There’s something incredibly decadent and rejuvenating about taking some time for yourself to go off-the-grid. Turn off the tech, and tune-out the noise. Make stuff. Make meaningful stuff, that you put a little bit of yourself into, to share with your Valentines.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

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Gift wrap from Cavallini Papers. Available at http://www.papersource.com.

Gift Wrap Valentines and Garlands

I found some really fun vintage and Victorian gift wrap at a local boutique and fell in love immediately. The texture and thick stock were fabulous. Too pretty to just wrap a package and have it torn up and thrown away. These Italian wraps can be found in 20 x 28″ sheets online at Paper Source.

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The first thing I did was use glue stick, thoroughly covering the back of  the wrapping paper and applying it to large sheets of tag board or thick card stock, to make it extra durable. Smooth, smooth, smooth with your hand and then set a couple books on top to make sure the paper is firmly adhered and your card stock doesn’t curl.

After just a few minutes of dry-time, it’s time to put your preschool construction paper cutting skills to work. I find this part remarkably relaxing.

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At this point, you can finish off individual Valentines with some additional flourishes such as red or pink glitter glue, fabric or Washi tape around the edges, or use a hole punch and adorn with tulle or grosgrain ribbon.

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I decided to make a garland, and it couldn’t have been easier. I just used a hole punch and about 4 feet of red and white baker’s twine, and voila! Now I have a darling vintage garland greeting my guests, along the length of a shelf, when they come in my front door.

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Printables from Brit & Company. Find them on the Smart Perks’ Pinterest Board.

 

Valentine’s Printables

Given my affinity for cutting and pasting, my own personal Zen, I go crazy for free printables. You can find a zillion of them on the Smart Perks Pinterest boards. Here are two projects I completed this weekend.

The first are some sweet treats, Hershey’s Miniatures candy bars, wrapped in fun 90’s pop wrappers (see above). Too cute. Love to surprise my coworkers with a little something unexpected to make them smile.

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My second Free Printable Project was inspired by fellow blogger, Super Mom. This is an awesome and hilarious idea for a non-candy related Valentine that kids with allergies can enjoy. And it won’t be forgotten any time soon.  I simply glued the printed designs onto cardstock, cut them out, and I’ll use red and white baker’s twine to affix the darling Valentine’s Whoopee Cushions that I found online at Oriental Trading to the cards. I think you might want to save these for an in-home party though. Can you imagine a classroom full of third-graders with Whoopee Cushions? OH. HECK. NO.

 

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Fun With Felt

I love felt. Needle-felting is one of my favorite hobbies. It’s extremely satisfying to take a mound of raw, dyed wool and shape it into something completely new. There are many YouTube tutorials on needle-felting. All you need is clean wool, a felting needle and a piece of felting foam. Careful, those needles are sharp. I recommend Dream Felt on Etsy for all needle-felting supplies. Their wool colors are fabulous. I used their wool roving to make the felted wool hearts and ball garland shown in the main photo.

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But if you want to do something a little simpler, you can buy sheets of regular felt at Michaels or your local craft store, along with various Valentine shades of DMC embroidery floss, and create some one-of-a-kind Valentine’s coasters with a personal touch. I used some of my favorite song titles and lyrics, such as Tainted Love, You Sexy Thing, and Love is a Battlefield, to create unique Valentines that won’t be thrown away on February 15th.

You only need to know two basic stitches to complete these simple hearts – a running stitch for the word or design, and a blanket stitch to sew the two hearts together. Just cut two heart shapes from your felt, approximately 4 inches in diameter. Stitch designs on front (and back if you want), add buttons or other embellishments. Then blanket stitch the two hearts together, design-side facing out. Easy Peasy!

Obviously I had a busy weekend, working non-stop on my crafty fun times. But with 3 weekends left until Valentine’s Day, you still have plenty of time to try one of these projects, or one of the many, many others you’ll find on our Smart Perks Pinterest board. I love shopping! But handmade Valentine’s are good for the heart, and the soul! Enjoy.

Blogger Mel B., a Smart Perks employee, has pinholes in her pointer finger and a scissor blister on her knuckle.

 

 

 

 

How-To: DIY Home Renovation Project

 

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“Your home should tell the story of who you are and be a collection of what you love.”
Nate Berkus

When my husband and I moved into our big two-story farm house in 1993, we knew it would take a lot of time, effort and money to update it. Besides having the wiring and plumbing redone to bring it up to code, the interior of the house needed a serious makeover. It was obvious the previous owners didn’t have any decorating sense whatsoever.

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Though it wasn’t quite this bad, it was still pretty bad.

The walls in the dining room and living room were painted light green (the color of pond scum), the windows were hidden under heavy full-length drapes (the kind you’d find in a funeral home or the Munster’s house) and the floors were covered with filthy shag carpeting (I’m sure it harbored all kinds of nasty microscopic critters). The downstairs bathroom looked like it was straight out of a 1970’s flop house – big gold sunflowers against an olive green background, a grungy mustard-colored linoleum floor and a bathtub they probably hauled out of a junk yard. The bathroom upstairs had a long closet decorated with goofy duck stickers instead of a bathtub or shower. I kid you not. It was ridiculous!

Our realtor referred to this 1917 fixer-upper as the “Bates Motel”, but beneath all the unsightly trappings we could see that this place had a lot of character and loads of potential.

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Not exactly welcoming…

For starters, beautifully carved woodwork, plate rails and beveled mirrors in the spacious dining room, bay windows in the dining room, living room and master bedroom, and underneath that hideous shag carpeting we discovered a magnificent oak floor with mahogany inlay. We were also impressed with the size of the kitchen – 17 ft. x 17 ft. with high 10 ft. ceilings – and the charming built-in cabinet, not to mention the transoms above the bedroom doors (something you’d usually find in grand hotels, not private homes.) Suffice it to say this house was a diamond in the rough.

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This is the detailing I’m talking about. Beautiful, huh?

After buying the house for a song, we decided we could save a lot of money if we tackled minor renovations ourselves. It’s taken quite a few years (and muscle) to do some of the improvements and, as with most old houses, there’s still plenty to do. But, anyone who has seen the before and after pictures will agree this place looks ten times better than it did when we first moved in.

If you’re thinking of remodeling your home, I have some ideas for easy and affordable upgrades you can do yourself.

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Look at that technique!

Red Walls

An example of a burgundy dining room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give walls a fresh coat of paint. Probably the easiest and least expensive way to change the look of any room is to repaint it. Think beyond the usual shades of beige and go with colors that reflect the mood or purpose of the room or your personal decorating style. For example, try bright yellow or tangerine in the kitchen, rich burgundy or hunter green in the dining room, and fresh lilac or jade green in the bathroom.

  • Need help selecting the right colors? Check out the interior paint guide at bhg.com
  • Learn how to paint like a pro with help from diynetwork.com

Restore or replace your flooring. If you’re lucky enough to have hardwood floors underneath your worn carpet (like we did) and they’re in relatively good condition, you may just need to spruce them up with a floor sander/polisher from a rental place or buy this handy Floor Scrubber/Polisher. You can always get an area rug if you want to add some color and warmth.

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It looks harder than it is, we promise!

On the other hand, if your floors are in bad shape, you’ll want to hide them under new carpeting or flooring. Look for special deals from Empire Today, one of the featured offers in Smart Perks.

Refinish cabinets, shelves and furniture. Instead of investing in new kitchen cabinets, consider refinishing your existing ones with paint or stain. Why not dress them up with different knobs or handles too?

Go to hgtv.com for a simple tutorial on refinishing kitchen cabinets.

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Photo Courtesy of Pinterest User One Good Thing…

Replace faucets and sinks. Make an outdated bathroom look like new instantly by replacing your faucets and sink with more modern designs. You don’t even need a plumber to do it!

 

Re-tile the floor or backsplash. Tiling is relatively easy. All you need is a little know-how and the right supplies, like tiles (standard subway-style tiles are the most common and the easiest to install), a v-notched trowel, tile mastic (adhesive), a tile cutter, and grout. You can find most of these things at home improvement stores. Go to diynetwork.com for step-by-step instructions on tiling floors, backsplashes, showers and more.

Update window treatments. Get rid of those heavy drapes or dated curtains and put up some sleek new blinds, Roman shades or sheers. Or, you could create your own custom curtains, drapes, shades & more out of materials you already have on hand. Check out the amazing (and easy) DIY Window Treatment ideas from hgtv.com!

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Just one of many options from one of our partners, 3 Day Blinds. Check out Smart Perks for a coupon!

You’ll also find some cool ideas in Melanie’s March 2nd blog post!

For supplies and products, look no further than Smart Perks! You’ll find some great offers from Build.com, Lowe’s, 3 Day Blinds, and more in our Home & Garden section.

Final Note: Before you invest in an older home, have it inspected by a professional to make sure it’s structurally sound. It’s easy to correct cosmetic flaws, but if the foundation is fragile you’ll have a nightmare on your hands. If you don’t believe me, rent the Tom Hanks’ movie The Money Pit!

Good luck and remember, it’s worth all of the effort once you see the fruits of your labor! Have any of you renovated your home yourself and have pics to send? Include them in the comment section!

Catherine B., a Smart Perks employee, may not be handy with a hammer, but she does know how to create an awesome honey-do list.

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I have kept a journal since I first learned to write, somewhere around the first or second grade. So the idea that anyone would find it difficult to write just a few sentences a day is incomprehensible to me.

I cannot force anyone to write daily. But I can shout from the roof tops why I think it is the prescription for a healthier and happier life.

Author Pat Conroy said, in his book My Reading Life, “Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself.”

Journaling is not only your live-action autobiography, it can be a useful tool to help you accomplish any number of goals. From training for a race to losing weight, over-coming a personal struggle to achieving your goals, your journal is whatever you make of it.

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These colorful journals from Flow magazine range in subject from How to Slow Down to Fresh New Beginnings.

Maybe you’ve heard of Oprah Winfrey’s Gratitude Journal? Each day writing down something or someone in your life you are thankful for? This simple task is a common suggestion for coping with depression.

Or if you are dealing with grief or a loss, a journal is a safe place to let all of your emotions flow freely without filter or judgment. Your journal can be a place to remember your loved one every day, which can bring enormous comfort.

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Art Journal from Somerset Life, Volume 10, Issue 1

Many doodlers and artists alike keep fun, funky and fabulous art journals with elaborate drawings and water colors, mixed-media fabric scraps, art papers, and embellishments. They’re stunning.

For me, my journal is sanity-saving. The very act of putting pen to paper gives me an immediate feeling of calm.

I like ruled pages. My collection of leather-bound Moleskine notebooks is vast. I have one in virtually every color, and I get a certain thrill opening a new one and seeing those blank pages in front of me.

I write stream-of-consciousness style, with no attention paid to self-editing. Just pouring the contents of my overactive mind out onto the page. Nothing is off-limits. I write everything from the mundane details of everyday life, “the commute was beautiful, with the sun rising all blue and pink over the frozen lake, and The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ on the radio” to my struggles with anxiety, or progress on achieving my goals as an amateur photographer.

I tell family stories. Some days when I’m feeling nostalgic, I can devote pages to my favorite memories of my grandparents.

In the summer I detail my garden endeavors, birds at my feeder, progress on home renovations, and my ongoing struggle with finding and fitting into a swimsuit that doesn’t make me feel like a dancing hippo at the circus. My journal is the place where I hold myself accountable. Tracking how well I’m doing on sticking to a diet (Two cupcakes? Really? Did you need that second cupcake?) And also, where I rally myself after a setback.

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Love this glue pen for adding quotes to my journals.

I can talk myself down or build myself up. I like to glue motivational messages inside my journals. Or use little doo-dads, stickers or Post-Its. With the popularity of Smash Books, a journal/scrapbook hybrid, you can find all kinds of cool little embellishments to add to your journal.

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These cute sticky notes and pockets are fun additions to your journal.

It’s January. A blank slate. A fresh new chapter in your life. You don’t need to invest in anything fancy. Paper and a pen. That’s all it takes. Your journal can be whatever you make it. Simple to elaborate. Regardless, you’ll find it can be a powerful tool to create change in your life, or to provide you with peace.

What are you waiting for?

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 Blogger Melanie Bisson, a Smart Perks employee, could fill a POD storage unit with all of her journals. She’ll never go digital.

Holiday Cards: Adding More Joy to Your World, Less Humbug to Your Holidays

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Ebeneezer Scrooge has finally gotten hold of me in the last couple years.

At least when it comes to Christmas cards. Or Valentine’s, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving. I have been single-handedly doing my part to keep the greeting card industry and United States Postal Service afloat for over two decades now. Chew on this. According to the Greeting Card Association, 1.6 billion cards were sent out last holiday season. The cost of a first class stamp is .49¢. So assuming no over-sized cards, which require additional postage, that’s $735,000,000 in postage alone.

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This year I was seriously considering humbugging it and making the switch to email cards. Or a text message. (shudder, chortle, snort). I kid. I will NEVER send Season’s Greetings via a text message.

However, I’m a “reach-out and touch someone” kinda gal. I don’t want anyone to stare into a cavernous, empty mailbox and hear the echo of “Hellllllooooooo in there”, a la Charlie Brown. Call me Mary Sunshine, but I want to make people smile. I want my friends, neighbors, coworkers, the people I’ve fallen out of touch with over the years, to know that I still think of them warmly and wish them the best.

Besides, despite all the time and money associated with sending holiday cards, sending them makes ME feel good. I enjoy the tradition. I also love going to the mailbox and seeing some brightly colored envelopes, with a return address from someone I miss. 12185008_1255686671124168_2853116667187239140_oAlthough I have to admit, through the joys of social networking, my three dogs have more friends, and receive way more cards than I do. True story!

Don’t get me wrong, if I don’t get a card from you, I won’t feel snubbed. I understand the pressures of life and the need to put first things first. No one can get every single thing done that they want to do. But making cards is something I enjoy.

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So right about now, this time of year, you’ll probably find me spending at least a Saturday afternoon or two, sitting in my craft room, listening to Christmas tunes and making cards.

Making my own cards gives me a chance to play, get glitter on my face, exhale and most importantly put some of myself into my cards. 337661_327967827229395_574144619_oI don’t make all my cards, but maybe a couple dozen for close friends and family. Like this one, that I made for my cousins to remind them of the Christmases we spent together growing up.

I know that not everyone hoards craft supplies year-round. Not everyone has separate boxes stacked on separate shelves in their craft cupboard, one for craft papers and stickers, another for rubber stamps and ink pads, or 4 wooden dowels that hold about a dozen or more spools of festive ribbon each. My husband will be the first to tell you how expensive craft supplies are. Well, you should never pay full price for craft supplies.

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If you have a Gmail account, Google has gone through the trouble to sort your emails for you. That means you have one whole tab just for Promotions. Virtually EVERY single company you sign up for emails with offers a first time subscriber discount or coupon to use either online or in the store.

After that, whenever you need a coupon or coupon code, you simply click on your Promotions tab, and I promise you will find an email with a discount, usually percent off coupons, for one item or your entire purchase and/or free shipping. You’ll also get advance notice of sales. And, you don’t have to see them until you need them with the Promotions tab. This works for Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Crafts Direct, JoAnn Fabrics. If you still get a newspaper, Michael’s has a flier every week containing coupons for 20-50% off one item, and a percent off your entire purchase. During Black Friday, they’ll even give you a percentage off sale prices.

One of my favorite Smart Perks partners, Expressionery, has an email sign-up incentive of $10 off your first $30 purchase with free shipping. You’ll also find additional discounts at http://www.smartperks.com. Expressionery is a great source for self-inking address stamps. So much easier than labeling! You can really power through your stacks of envelopes in minutes. Colorful Images is my go-to source for personalized shipping and gift labels. They always have a great discount available online.

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Tiny Prints and Snapfish are my go to online sources for holiday photo cards. Being as my husband and I don’t have children, but have three dogs, our dogs are usually the highlight of our cards. In fact, I actually got a complaint last year for sending a photo card with a photo of just my husband and I. Some years I’ll have such a hard time choosing from my favorite photos, I’ll have to order more than one card. I go for natural poses for the holiday cards, just catching the pups doing what they do, being their goofy selves.

While I’ve received discounts from both Tiny Prints and Snapfish, both online and in my mailbox already this year, I typically wait to do my ordering of photo cards until Black Friday. peanutsstamps-1441218230778-23546992-ver1-0-900-675-153806You’ll not only get the best prices of the season, but you’ll receive your cards back in plenty of time to get them in the mail.  If you want to ensure your cards arrive on time, try to get them to the post office no later than the end of the second week of December, or earlier if you’re mailing cards outside the U.S.

Well, I’d better get busy…those cards aren’t going to make themselves.When it stops being enjoyable for me and turns into a chore, that’s when I know it’s time to scale back. But in the meantime, whether you send cards or not, whether you celebrate the holidays or not, whichever holiday you celebrate, I hope you take time to pause and enjoy the season and create your own traditions.

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Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee, can’t wait to watch Elf a half dozen times. Smiling is her favorite, too. 

The DIY “Vintage” Trend: What You Need to Know and How You Can Take Part

mock up, laptop, working space

Many of today’s trendiest bars, homes, apartments, fashions and decor are no longer sporting the beige tones of the ‘90s, the computer-rigid lines of the ‘80s, nor the shag carpet of the ‘70s (as much as we miss all of these). The most coveted items today are refurbished, architecturally-unique throwbacks with foundations in the minimalistic movement in the early 20th century. Think of it as a remix of all of the above, but with less.

Minimalism is “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity.” Thanks to the invention of websites such as Pinterest, a lot of people these days are taking old objects ­– desks, chairs, lamps, plywood, that sort of thing – and refurbishing them. The restyled piece is then placed within the context of exposed brick walls and dark wooden floors, giving it that modern vintage look.

For instance, one of my friends made an incredible standing desk out of an old door he purchased from an architecture reclamation store. All he had to do was put some homemade sawhorses on for legs and now it’s a piece that everyone asks about. The whole thing was super simple, doesn’t take up that much space and looks very cool. The sawhorses were just $20 (assembled with cheap 2x4s and sawhorse brackets) and the door was $10. $30 is pretty cheap for a cool place to work!Detail of a board with old paint on it.

Maybe you’re wondering “Who would want to display some old junk?” Why is this refurbished approach so attractive, even among people who can afford many other options?

Well, I have a theory about it: do you remember when your grandma gave you that (ugly) ring she got from her grandma when she was your age? Or maybe you still have that stability-lacking bookshelf your dad made back when you were a kid? The main reason that you might hold onto these objects isn’t because of any visual aesthetic appeal, but there’s an inherent value in the story an object carries – one that occasionally surpasses the beauty of the product itself. When people ask, “Why are you using this broken motorcycle as a coffee table anyway?” You have a great story to tell in return.

The same goes for today’s living room “masterpieces,” although the story can be a bit more self-indulgent, “Well, my (boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad, whoever) and I went out to the (thrift shop, architectural reclamation store, grandma’s house, etc.) and found this (lamp, wooden door, ship mast, 1940s refrigerator, civil war musket, other random thing). Then we (put a hat on it, made it into a chalkboard, had our friends sign it, slapped an old map onto it, etc.).”

Watch as guests “ooh” and “ahh” at your creation. And aren’t you so crafty! I have heard similar stories countless times. Although the pieces aren’t always rooted in something sentimental like a family heirloom, they add extra value as a conversation piece and is in tangent with the current minimal trend.Sofa with lamp

I might be an amateur myself, but this is my favorite kind of design. Therefore, what follows is one amateur’s advice to another:

  • Look for organic materials such as stained wood, earthy bricks, water pipes, or antiques made out of such materials.
  • Find a lot of inspiration over at Pinterest: try searching “vintage”, “minimalist”, “rustic”, “DIY” or any other similar terms.
  • The older (or weirder) the better, so if you ever end up working with wood, make sure to treat it with the right stain. Also, if you’re looking for a really beat-up look, get a knife and crowbar out and have some fun doing some damage to it (but be sure you do this before staining it). This is a pretty decent guide on how to give wood that rustic look.
  • Finally, have fun and learn. One of the best parts of this DIY movement is that you get to express yourself artistically without worrying about perfection. Functionality is usually pretty nice though, so go for that in tandem with the look.

One man’s trash is another man’s (or woman’s) treasure. Keep that in mind and be open to the possibilities as well as the limitations of your space. And if your house is already fully furnished, you should think about passing along some of your heirlooms to a friend or consignment store that would be excited to have them. Even if you thought they might have been tacky back then, it’s probably stylish right now. Plus, it gives somebody a great story.

-Jack

As devilishly handsome as he is clever, Jack is the excellent copyeditor for the Smart Perks team. A passionate music-listener, writer, and all-around great guy, Jack is going to help keep you in the know on fun trends and interesting ideas.