Writer: Dr. Mariah Smith Morgan, MSU Extension Service
This time of year, it’s our faces -- not winter snow drifts -- that are glistening in the sunlight, but it’s never too early to start thinking about Christmas. By planning now, you can avoid sweating about gift ideas during the holidays.
If you are even remotely interested in creating personalized presents for family and friends, now is the time to get started. You can finish your list early, check it twice and save a few bucks with some easy-to-create gifts.
Photographs are the first items you will need to create these treasures. Photos can take the longest time to find, especially if you are reaching deep within the family vaults for the oldies. Children really need to see those pictures of their parents wearing ice cream buckets and nothing else. Go ahead and get the photos collected and organized. You will need to digitize the photos, which means you will either need to scan them or use a digital camera to photograph them before importing them into a computer.
Taking a digital photo is the quickest way to go since scanning can take several minutes per photo. Place the original photo on a piece of black velvet or construction paper and be sure to have a natural light source nearby. Position the camera directly over the photo. Watch out for shadows and flares from the flash. If you have a good, natural light source, you should be able to go through the photos in no time.
Once the photos are digitized, crop and edit them in a photo editing software like Picasa, which is available for free. Next, you are ready to get creative. A simple Christmas present is to turn the photos into ornaments. To pick up some clear glass ornaments, you will have to head to a hobby store or wait a little closer to Christmas.
Then, pick up some vellum paper, which is usually located on the bottom of the shelf with labels and stationary. Print out your photos on the vellum paper. Velum is transparent, so the lights from the tree will make it glow. Normally, you can place four photos on one page in a Word document.
Cut out each photo in the shape of a circle and roll it up. Depending on the size of the glass balls you use, you will have to guestimate how large to cut each circle. Be sure to make each picture large enough to cover the entire circle. Stuff one circle down into an ornament and use a toothpick or tweezers to unroll the paper. I have been known to use a little touch of glue to hold the photo securely in place. Pour a little fake snow or glitter into the bottom of the ornament and tie a pretty ribbon on top. Voila! You have a homemade Christmas ornament sure to impress family and friends.
If ornaments are too much work, try Wordle, which is a free program that allows you to create word clouds. Type in the person’s name and all of the characteristics about them you love. Wordle will generate a word cloud for you that you can print out. Find a picture frame you like and tuck the word cloud inside. Attach a dry erase marker to the frame with a ribbon, and your loved one has a customized erasable message board.
Do you have great photos on your smartphone from the family get-together? Lara Bowman, an Extension instructor at the Mississippi State Center for Technology Outreach, recently told me about a new app called Groovebook that is a fun, easy way to share those photos. Upload 100 photos from your smartphone, and for $2.99, Groovebook will print them in a little book format and send it to you. The pages are perforated to make it easy for you to tear out the photos to hand them out to family and friends. Or, tear out the photos and string them together to make a family-friendly garland for the season.
Christmas will be here before you know it. Take the stress out of the shopping list and add a little homemade love to your gifts. No sweat!