Month: December 2007

Photoshop article at SitePoint

I’ve been MIA through the holidays so expect a ridiculously long book post when I get back into things next week. In the meantime, an article I submitted to SitePoint has just been published (part 1 of 2)! Creating Web 2.0 Effects with Photoshop, Part 1, covers basic gradients, striped backgrounds, transparent layers, and glassy buttons, targeted for beginners with step-by-step diagrams and instructions. Don’t waste your time if you already know about all that stuff, but please visit if you want to learn more!

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Farm meets web

“Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) connect farmers with communities, enabling non-farmers to subscribe to boxes of produce and other farm products. After doing a few searches online for CSA farms, I came across Eatwell Farm, located in Dixon, CA (a few miles down the freeway from where I live). I was surprised and delighted to find that Eatwell Farm has a web site, a blog, and even YouTube videos of their farm.

The web site is low-tech but functional and offers useful recipes and updated information about what to expect in a produce box subscription each week. The blog talks about improvements they make to their farm, how crops are doing, and the latest news in the saga of the “chicken killer(s) and thieves” (someone shot several dozen chickens, I think, and many have been stolen; the shooting caused their adorable guard dog to get loose and then get hit by a car — so sad!). The YouTube videos show baby chicks, piglets feeding, the egg-washing process, and more — fascinating stuff for someone like me who grew up in suburbia (if you like this stuff, check out this photo-essay about growing and harvesting potatoes).

I think this is a great example of how some thoughtful web-marketing can enrich an experience for users.

Reading: To Buy or Not to Buy Organic

To Buy or Not to Buy Organic by Cindy Burke was a delight to read. She is very concise and tells you what you need to know; while providing some similar information as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, this book reads more like a friendly textbook and less like a memoir. I would read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle first if you need to be inspired or convinced to look more into a local diet, then read this book for more of the nitty-gritty and practical information for pursing a local, sustainable, organic diet. The book also includes short segments that share stories about real people in the farming, organics, and food industry, giving some background and insight into their farming practices and food choices.

In chapter 2, Cindy explores the pesticides used in conventional farming and their impact on our health. As I’m in the middle of my sixth month of pregnancy, some of these statements were sobering:

  • A 2005 study showed that 287 commercial chemicals, pesticides, and pollutants crossed the placental barrier and were within a newborn baby’s umbilical cord (p.24-25). (The hopeful news is that another 2005 study showed that children who switched to an organic diet showed untraceable levels of pesticides after only 5 days, suggesting that going to an all-organic diet can quickly make a big difference in children’s health.)
  • Some of the most toxic chemicals from pesticides are stored in fatty body tissues. The most efficient way to rid the body of these chemicals is through breastfeeding. Some scientists think that this may explain why women who breastfeed are less likely to get breast cancer in the future (p.16).
  • Simply washing fruits and vegetables doesn’t remove pesticide residue, because many of these pesticides are absorbed into the core of the food.

Reading Cindy’s thoughts and research about pesticides definitely encouraged me to keep on trying to use organic ingredients when cooking for myself and my family!

Steve and I have noticed how more and more companies are jumping on the organic bandwagon, but were unable to express why it felt “weird.” Cindy put our formless feelings into words by taking on the issue of organics and big-business head-on in early chapters. “Buying organic” now seems cool and trendy to many people, mixed with some nostalgia for those “good old days” of “real farming” — but simply buying organic doesn’t mean that you’re supporting a small family farm! Unfortunately, the original impetus behind the organic movement — sustainable farming and stewardship without the use of dangerous pesticides — is slowly being lost as more corporations label themselves as “organic” and lobbyists push for expanding the definition of “certified organic” to allow for certain pesticides, genetically-modified organisms, and more.

For example, at your big-chain supermarket, the popular brands of organic foods have big food companies behind them — the box of Kashi 7-grain Nugget cereal in my cupboard is really produced by Kellogg, the carton of Silk organic soy milk in your fridge, next to the gallon of Horizon organic milk, are both produced by Dean Foods, a major supplier of dairy products; Odwalla drinks was acquired by Coca-Cola. While in one sense we can be grateful that these big corporations are helping to meet the demand for organic foods, I must admit some distrust in their motives. Are they just looking to make a buck, or do they really care about sustainable agriculture and doing what’s best for the earth and our health? Cindy is not so optimistic:

… These companies are not changing the way farms grow, produce, or sell food, because to do so would put them at a serious competitive advantage. p.10

Horizon Organics has been caught raising many of its organic dairy cows with thousands of other cows in feedlots where the creatures have had little freedom to roam, eat grass, or even lie down. Since the animals are fed organic grain and do not receive antibiotics, Horizon can still legally sell ‘certified organic’ milk. p.57

As big stores like Walmart and Costco increase their selection of organic foods, there have been shortages and higher prices as supply for organic almonds, or strawberries, or corn, did not meet the increased demand. In fact, many “organic” raw materials and foods are now coming from overseas — specifically, China.

That seems odd to me, as China is known to have many pollution issues. Fred Gale, a senior economist with the USDA, has researched Chinese agriculture and told the Dallas Morning News that it is “almost impossible to grow truly organic food in China. The water everywhere is polluted, and the soil is contaminated from industry and mining, and the air is bad.” p.55

So my box of Kashi cereal could have organic ingredients shipped all the way from China, because Kellogg may have looked for a cheaper way to obtain organic grains. Wow!

What’s one to do? Cindy suggests that instead of simply buying “organic,” we begin to look more for “local and sustainable” options. Those small family farms that you thought you were supporting when you purchased a gallon of organic milk or bought a box of organic cereal? Many of them are actually dropping the USDA “certified organic” label because it costs too much to maintain certification or because they disagree with the direction that the USDA is taking the organic label. So simply trusting the phrase “organic” is no longer enough, as the types of farmers you want to support may not be able to use the term “organic” to describe their products, legally, even if their farming practices are truly organic and sustainable. Cindy encourages her readers to look for local farmers’ markets, local food cooperatives (where a committed group of people are already doing that type of research for you), or, if possible, hooking up with a local farm through “community supported agriculture” (CSA) by subscribing to their program for produce box pickups or deliveries. Some of the resources she mentions:

One thing I appreciated about this book, however, is that Cindy doesn’t draw a hard line for only buying local, organic food. I’m lucky to live in the Central Valley of California and to have access to all kinds of organic produce, locally produced, year-round. But others live in climates where they would have to eat stored potatoes and… I don’t know… turnips? all winter long. And while reading about Barbara Kingsolver’s year-long experiment and Alisa and James’ 100-mile diet experiment (in Plenty) can be inspiring, it can also be discouraging in the sense that you see how hard it is to limit your diet to foods produced within a certain radius of where you live. Cindy’s approach with her book is not to make you feel guilty for eating a banana that came from Chile, but to inform you enough so that you can make choices that you are comfortable with (for example — maybe you decide to look for only fair-trade bananas so that you know the overseas farmer is really benefiting from your purchase; or, maybe you can’t find fair-trade bananas and get conventional bananas because your family loves bananas, but choose local and/or organic foods for the other items on your grocery list).

With this in mind, she actually includes a cost-benefit equation (p.80) that she developed to help her decide when it makes more sense to purchase something locally instead of something organic. And for those who don’t like math, she has a couple chapters that cover “the Dirty Dozen” (twelve foods to eat organic that will reduce your pesticide intake by 50%) and gives her recommendations on what to purchase organically or locally for every type of produce (p.83). The back portion of the book includes a handy chart, as well, which shows which foods you should definitely try to purchase organic vs. foods that would be better to purchase locally (whether organic or not) vs. foods that don’t really matter (pesticide-wise) if they’re conventionally or organically grown (other than philosophically trying to support organic farmers). I think there was a typo in the chart, as “bell peppers” weren’t marked as “buy organic” although the supporting information clearly states that you should; also, I think the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch guides are a better source for choosing how to sustainably and responsibly eat seafood instead of her recommendation to only buy locally.

So, if you have the energy and desire to start looking more into how to choose foods that are better for you and that don’t destroy the environment in the process, I highly recommend this book. In the meantime, Cindy had a few ideas on how you can get started if you feel overwhelmed. Pick one:

  • Pick 3-5 foods your family eats most often and try to get organic or local versions.
  • Focus on the Dirty Dozen list and get organic versions: apples, apricots, bell peppers, celery, cherries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach, and strawberries.
  • Look online to find farmers’ markets, CSAs, food cooperatives, or natural food stores (Whole Foods, Wild Oats) in your area (links above).

Reading: Vanilla, Hamish Macbeth, Organic, Alexander McCall Smith

Finished reading:

Vanilla by Patricia Rain – All you ever wanted to know about the history and production of vanilla. While I typically like “food” books, this one was a little boring to me, honestly. I found it hard to follow the strange-sounding names and locations (a map of Mexico for context would have been nice in the early chapters). The chapters were often sectioned off by location (Indonesia, India, Mexico, etc.) with a thorough history of vanilla within each location and many details about how vanilla is produced; I found this hard to follow as well.

What I did find fascinating were some of the tidbits and stories about American brands (McCormick, Coca-Cola, etc.) and vanilla’s involvement, as well as the biology bits about vanilla and what makes it so challenging to produce:

  • It takes approximately 3-4 years for a vanilla plant to start flowering.
  • Then, you have a very short period to hand-pollinate the flowers.
  • Then, it takes approximately 8-9 months for the bean to develop and ripen.
  • Then, it takes another 3 months to cure the bean.
  • It’s a dangerous job to be in the vanilla business, as thieves are willing to rob and even kill to get their hands on your vanilla beans.

Also interesting were random vanilla facts that I picked up along the way:

  • The plant and flowers and beans have no ‘vanilla’ scent! The beans only develop the complex vanilla flavors after the curing process.
  • Most of the world’s vanilla is produced in Madagascar.
  • Scientists still don’t have a full understanding of the organic chemicals that make up vanilla’s flavor.

If you’re more into history and culture than I am, you might find this book interesting; if you’re more into food like I am, just skim the book or read the back cover, which lists the most interesting vanilla facts!

Death of a Gossip, Death of a Cad and Death of an Outsider by M.C. Beaton – New-to-me mystery series to read, hooray! Recommended on Orson Scott Card’s blog. Follows Hamish Macbeth, a gentle Scotsman who is a small-town police detective and tries very hard not to be promoted. (See full list of novels at wikipedia.)

To Buy or Not to Buy Organic? by Cindy Burke – Excellent book. Longer review coming.

The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith – Fourth book in the “Sunday Philosophy Club” series. Isabel Dalhousie faces various challenges including raising her son Charlie, trying to love her difficult niece, Cat, being ousted in an underhanded fashion from her position as editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, and solving the mystery of possibly forged paintings. Smith’s books are always a delight to read; I think part of the charm is how much he shares of the inner thoughts of his characters. Isabel especially seems to overthink situations and is all the more “real” for it.

With a bookmark: (Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Sacred Attitudes by Erica Ross-Krieger
  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • Liquid Jade by Beatrice Hohenegger
  • Harriet Bean and the League of Cheats by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Perfect Hamburger and Other Delicious Stories by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
  • Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull
  • How to Pick a Peach by RussParsons
  • The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.
  • So That’s What They’re For! by Janet Tamero

The cost and benefits of homemade vs. store-bought chicken broth

While writing up yesterday’s post about eating out vs. making meals at home, I realized that I’d been making a lot of soup lately. For some of the recipes, I used store-bought chicken broth; for others, I made homemade chicken broth using chicken backs and necks that I had in the freezer from past chickens I’ve chopped up and chicken breast bones that I’ve de-boned. Which makes me wonder — what’s cheaper? What’s better?

Analysis

Pacific Organic Free-Range Chicken BrothPacific Foods has organic free-range chicken broth, normal or low-sodium, available at our local grocery store or food co-op. Regularly $3.09; on-sale at the Co-op this month for $1.89. Each box has approximately 4 cups (1 quart) of chicken broth.

My homemade chicken broth recipe involves 2-3 lbs. of chicken parts (backs, necks, bones, skin, etc.) that would otherwise be unusable, 1 medium-to-large onion, salt, and two bay leaves. It makes approximately 2 quarts (8 cups) of chicken broth.

The obvious variable in the chicken broth recipe is how much you’re paying for the chicken parts. The local food co-op offers prepackaged chicken backs and necks at $1.39/lb., although I’m not sure if those are free-range chickens or just “natural” chickens. Last month, I bought a $15.07 free-range chicken (approximately 5-6 lb. chicken), which, after deboning the breasts and taking off the legs, thighs, and wings, yielded enough chicken parts for a batch of broth. I’m going to somewhat arbitrarily set the price for the leftover chicken parts at a higher value of $1.50/lb., or $4.50 out of the $15.07 I spent on the whole chicken.

Back to my calculations: $4.50 for free-range chicken parts + $0.50 for a medium-large organic onion + minuscule pennies for salt and bay leaves = $5.00 for 8 cups (2 quarts) of chicken broth, or $2.50/quart. I save $0.39 on homemade broth for normal-price chicken broth, but lose $0.61 when chicken broth is on sale.

Notes:

  • The natural, free-range chicken I used isn’t “certified organic” but comes from a local, sustainably-run farm. Pacific Foods is based in Oregon and is labeled USDA Organic.
  • You can make homemade broth even cheaper with conventional chicken; I used to purchase bone-in chicken breasts or whole chickens on-sale for as little as $0.99-$1.39/lb. and freeze the leftover parts/bones until I had enough for making broth. However, that defeats my purpose of trying to purchase more organic, locally-produced foods.
  • A Cooks’ Illustrated issue ranked Pacific Foods free-range chicken broth as one of the lowest in their taste testing. Swanson’s Organic topped the list, but I don’t know how far the food travels before it arrives at my local store. I haven’t done my own taste-testing (and frankly, I’m not sure if I’m discerning enough to tell with premade broths!). However, I know for sure that homemade broth’s taste and flavor far surpasses ANY pre-made broth that I’ve had so far!

Summary

So, as I don’t care too much about the fact that Pacific Foods free-range chicken broth was ranked low in taste tests, I bought a few boxes of broth on-sale for convenient use in dishes where the chicken broth flavor isn’t the main taste.

However, I’ll probably stick to trying to make my own broth whenever I can for the following reasons:

  • The cost is about the same
  • The flavor is a ton better
  • I’m supporting local farmers by doing so
  • The food is traveling less to get to me
  • The satisfaction level of cooking from scratch is much higher

Comments or questions? Post them below!

The cost of eating out vs. making meals

The Simple Dollar did a couple cost-comparison (and time-comparison, too!) studies a little while ago about making hamburgers at home vs. purchasing them at a fast-food place. While I’ve always generally “known” that making my own food is cheaper than eating out, I’ve never really bothered to break down the numbers.

One of my friends, curious about our organic-and-local food attempts, asked how our grocery budget was faring near the end of last month. While I had general numbers for our grocery budget, I really had no concept of what percentage was represented by organic, locally-produced foods. As an experiment, I’ve been trying to keep Very Detailed Track of the food we buy and what I use it for in December.

As I seem to love spreadsheets as much as I love lists, I made a workbook with two spreadsheets:

  • Expense tracker: This breaks down every penny that we spend on food this month. I note the date, the specific item purchased, the category, the cost, and where it was purchased.
    • Categories break down into “fun” (which is shorthand for “eating out”), “meals” (items that I can track to specific meals that I make), and “groceries” (general items like milk and snacks that I can’t keep track of as well).
    • Example of a line from the spreadsheet:
      • Date: 12/3/2007
      • Item: Daikon radishes for soup
      • Category: Meals
      • Cost: $1.00
      • Where: Farmer’s Market (i.e., local and usually organic)
  • Food tracker: This lists the food that I use for each meal and calculates the cost of the meal. I note the date, which meal, what I made, the cost (hand-calculated, usually), and another column for notes.
    • Example of a line of data from the spreadsheet:
      • Date: 12/3/2007
      • Meal: D(inner)
      • What: Asian-style chicken soup with oyster mushrooms, daikon radish, cabbage, served with rice.
      • Cost: $2.88
      • Notes: $1 from radishes (local/organic), $0.10 of cabbage (1/5th of a 50-cent head, local/organic), $1.78 from oyster mushrooms. The chicken was bought in November ($15.07; local/free-range) so doesn’t count towards the meal cost for this month; I used about $5 worth for the soup, using the thighs/legs and wings. (Actual cost $7.88) Rice was purchased a long time ago and would count in regular grocery money anyway so I’m not keeping track of it.

(Keeping track of this is enough work that I doubt I will continue after this month, but I’m motivated enough by curiosity for now to keep going!)

After just 12 days of keeping up these detailed spreadsheets, I was really surprised by how cheap it is to cook your own meals, even when trying to purchase organic, locally-produced foods. That $7.88 batch of chicken soup that I made was good for 7 individual servings, or about $1.13 per serving. And that’s with expensive free-range chicken that costs about 3 times as much as “conventional” chickens!

Here are some other examples of super-cheap meals that I’ve made so far this month:

  • Indian Curry Tuna and Indian-Spiced Cabbage, served with rice
    $2.08 total = 3 servings, or $0.69/serving
    $0.30 for another 3/5 of the head of cabbage, $1.78 for a can of tuna. Spices and rice not included in cost.
  • Homemade pizza – one with pineapple and ham, the other with chicken, spinach, and bell pepper
    $5.09 total = 4 servings, or $1.27/serving
    $1.43 accounts for half a can of organic pineapple, $0.79 for a partial bunch of local/organic spinach, $0.37 for the quarter of local/organic bell pepper used, and $2.50 for the chicken. Ingredients for tomato sauce and crust were already in the pantry and not included in the cost.
  • Chickpea, potato, and spinach soup
    $4.98 total = 5 large servings, or $0.99/serving
    $0.75 for the rest of the bunch of spinach, $1.09 for a can of garbanzo beans from local distributor, $1.00 potato (local/organic), $1.89 for premade organic free-range chicken broth. Seasonings/spices not included in cost.

In contrast, here are some samples of times that we’ve eaten out this month:

  • Dinner at local Thai restaurant – two appetizers, main dish, rice, Thai iced tea (Steve), hot tea (Corrie)
    $35.49 including tip = 4 servings, or $8.87/serving
    We ate the appetizers and drinks the first night, but had enough main dish leftovers for two smallish lunch servings.
  • Breakfast at local crepe restaurant – shared one large crepe which came with side of potatoes
    $8.74 including tip = 2 servings, or $4.37/serving
    We were still a little hungry afterwards and ate more after running errands and going home.
  • Pizza and mocha freeze from Costco
    $5.58 = 2 servings, or $2.79/serving
    Steve had the mocha freeze, I had water; we shared the two “slices” of pizza.

Even the “cheap” food at Costco is twice as much as one of the meals I’ve made at home (which are far healthier, with the added benefit of using organic and locally-produced ingredients).

So far, our three categories are about even (“fun,” “grocery,” “meal”), if you don’t include the large case of soda that we got from Costco ($20!). Our grocery category includes organic milk, which is expensive compared to conventional milk, fruit, cheese for snacking, sandwich rolls, and other hard-to-track items like cereal and butter. Surprisingly, so far we haven’t been spending any more than we used to spend on groceries when purchasing conventional, “cheap” food.

I may update with another post at the end of the month after looking at the final numbers. For now, I’m definitely motivated to continue to enjoy cooking meals at home after seeing the price tags! We do have a “fun” budget which gets spent mostly on eating out — which we usually exceed — so this has been a good motivator to stay within our fun budget and instead have fun with the challenge of making foods that are nutritious and cost-effective.

December Review for Groundhog Day Resolutions

 Hooray! It’s been a full “year” of Groundhog Day Resolutions. December is the month to wrap up and review the year-of-goals, then to relax and enjoy the holiday season while giving oneself nearly two months to mull over new goals for the next year’s Groundhog Day.

In this post, I’ll talk not only about how my goals went this past month but do a general review of the whole experience as well.

  • Health/body goals – 8)
    • How I did: I tried a new form for writing down my weight daily and marking bubbles for exercising and eating healthy lunches (and having regular devotional times, a separate goal, below). I’m happy to report that this worked out exceedingly well for me!
      • Weigh daily and track – Did this every day! As for my overall goal of maintaining healthy pregnancy weight gain, this was a weird month with sudden jumps, a plateau, another sudden jump, a drop, and a jump. I ended up only 1.5 lbs. over the recommended average of 1 lb. a week, though, so I guess I’m doing okay.
      • Develop exercise routine – I was able to walk every day until I started having some bad back pain. Then, I found a pregnancy exercise video to do indoors instead. Of the 30 days that I tracked (11/12-12/11), I only missed 5 days. Much better than the 5/30 days of exercise that I seemed to be getting before!
      • Buy local foods (not exclusively, but as much as I can) – Going well. I’m also trying an experiment for December where I’m itemizing every penny spent on food and calculating the cost of meals I make, meals we eat out, and general groceries. I’m curious to see if buying local/organic makes a big difference for better or worse in what we spend money on.
      • Eat healthy lunches – 29/30 days! I did have some unhealthy snacks every now and then, ahem. Always a way to bend the rules…
    • Next month: Even though December/January aren’t officially times to continue to pursue goals for GDR, it’s important for me to keep on trying to exercise, eat healthily, etc. So, I’ll make myself another form for the next two months and do my best.
  • Work goals: 8D
    • How I did: My goal was to complete another 3/6 projects. Over this past month, I added another 4 projects (2 small ones, 2 “normal” ones) and crossed off 2 that weren’t going anywhere for a total of 8 ongoing projects. I managed to complete 4 projects completely, with one more of the small ones just about done. Yippee!
  • Character goals: 🙂
    • How I did: Kept up my gratitude journal nearly every day. I think I only missed 2/30 days.
  • House goal: 😐
    • How I did: Whiffed on talking to mom.

Overall, I think Groundhog Day Resolutions helped me to have a very productive year! Here are some of the things that have come out of intentionally setting goals and mini-goals this year:

  • Rebranded with a new logo and web site design
  • Started a new business (then decided I didn’t really have the energy to put into it)
  • Restarted a daily gratitude journal
  • Started and finished lots of work projects; worked on increasing turnover speed
  • Read a book about buying a first home
  • I don’t know if “got pregnant” really counts, but it was on my long-term goal list so I’ll claim it as one!

I definitely think a mid-year goal revamp/review time would work for me next time around. Perhaps I’m not big-picture enough to set year-long goals (or even longer-term goals)? I found my late goal revamp (October) to be very invigorating.

Even though I don’t have to commit to new goals until next February, I have a couple of rough ideas of the direction I want to head…

  • Healthy routines – This was the area I struggled with the most — exercising regularly, eating healthily. Even the motivation of being pregnant and having impaired glucose tolerance doesn’t go too far when I’m faced with, say, a tasty-looking bag of potato chips or a sliver of fresh-out-of-the-oven brownie.
  • Business direction – Reading the 4 Hour Workweek and working through some of the ideas helped me to see that while I enjoy custom web design work, it can be pretty draining. I’d like to focus more on working with developers and existing clients and limit the new custom web design work that I take on. This will involve some reworking of my business site.
  • Family – Learning to be a good mom.

… But I can think about those later! For now, it’s time to take a break from being goal-oriented and just enjoy the season!

Christmas traditions

I find it interesting to hear about other people’s holiday traditions. Maybe you do, too, so the rest of the post is about what Steve and I do when Christmas approaches!

Annual Christmas Ornament

One thing we’ve done every year (albeit unintentionally at first) is to pick out an ornament that represents the past year.

2002 ornament 2002 – “Our first Christmas together”
This was a wedding gift that we received. It stayed packed for our first Christmas together because we didn’t have a Christmas tree that year, but it did spark the idea of getting an ornament each year.

2003 ornament 2003
We got a Christmas tree ornament to commemorate our first Christmas tree together. It took a while to find an ornament of a Christmas tree; the 2003 Hallmark Veggie Tales ornament would have been perfect because it was of Larry the Cucumber dressed up like a tree, but every store was out by the time we got around to looking for an ornament. We ended up finding this 2002 Hallmark edition ornament for half-price instead!

2004 ornament 2004
This adorable sheep holds a cake that says “Happy Birthday, Jesus” and, with its other hoof, a present labeled “To My Shepherd” behind it. This had been a year where we felt that God had really been leading us, so the sheep/shepherd imagery and sense of gratitude was very appropriate.

2005 ornament 2005
After a change of direction, we thought a compass was appropriate to symbolize the new directions we were looking at in 2005. We picked up this compass from a sporting goods shop.

2006 ornament 2006
We went to Monterey several times in 2006, so got together this very non-traditional ornament of a stuffed sea otter wound through a Monterey Bay Aquarium keychain. A bit ghetto, but it represented a lot of the good times that we’d had that year.

2007 ornament 2007
Our friends gave us this ornament after they found out I was pregnant. The Veggie Tales ornament says “Peas On Earth,” but they had labeled the three peas on top with “Steve,” “Corrie,” and “Little Haffly.” The ornament was so cute and appropriate that Steve and I decided that it would be our official 2007 ornament!

Getting a tree

This started out as our good friends’ tradition and we joined in and adopted it for ourselves! A local Christmas tree farm has both pre-cut and cut-your-own trees. We go there with a group of friends to get a tree, help ourselves to free popcorn and apple cider, and ride on a “sleigh” on wheels pulled by a tractor decorated to look like moving reindeer. It’s very fun to hunt for the perfect tree and to watch our friends hunt for their trees.

This year, we splurged with our housemates and got a pre-cut tree. I finally got around to taking pictures! We kept our ball ornaments wrapped up this year and used our housemates’, but both put out our special ornaments. The rose petals around the tree skirt are my specialty as are the little stuffed monkeys at the top of the tree.

Christmas tree

Monkeys in the treeMonkeys in the tree

Lacking a “real” tree topper our first year of having a Christmas tree, we took our smallest monkeys and put them at the top of the tree. The slightly bigger white monkey doesn’t always make it, but the two baby monkeys have been on every tree since then.

Nativity Set

Nativity set Nativity set

We started a new tradition this year! We haven’t had a nativity scene before because I’ve been very picky about finding one that I like. I found this little set made out of polymer clay, but the thing we like about it is that it comes with a card that prompts you on how to set up something every day. There are twenty pieces, so some days you do things like making a road to Bethlehem (Steve and I colored a piece of paper) or putting out “hay” for the donkey. I think the little pieces are adorable.

Sleeping by the tree

One thing we did for the first time last year was to drag a mattress out by the tree and sleep by the tree. Then, we have our own little Christmas morning ritual of exchanging presents with each other. Our housemates will be out of town so we can do it again this year. I forsee us falling asleep by a nice cozy fire, as well!

What unusual or special traditions do you have during the holiday season?

Print Design: FBC Brochure

This is a project I completed several months ago, but it’s taken me a while to actually take pictures of the completed product!

A couple years ago, I had created a simple tri-fold, two-color brochure for my church. This year, they asked me to put together a full-color, updated brochure based on a shorter, wider tri-fold style. Here are the two sides of what I came up with:

Brochure side 1

Brochure side 2

A different designer had redesigned the church’s templates used for weekly bulletin and sermon notes, and I tied in some of the elements from their design with this brochure: The gold circular icons, the “strip of photos” treatment, and the use of a serif type for the titles. I tried to make the design a bit more fluid by adding in some multi-level lines connected with curves and plenty of rounded corners. I also tied in some of the photos that I’ve used for the FBC web site.

As I don’t have a background in print design, I depend heavily on the printers telling me what they need from me. Luckily the Illustrator files I provided with embedded photos seemed to be enough! I was surprised one Sunday by seeing the new brochure, printed on glossy card stock, in the chair rack in front of me.

Here are a couple photos…

The front of the brochure:

FBC brochure - front

First open: The right side is still folded over although the connected gold line gives the illusion that it’s one spread. (I was impressed that the printer was able to match up the lines in the design from one side to the other.)

FBC brochure - opened

“3D” photo of the brochure:

Brochure unfolded