Homemade Traditional Christmas Cards

My family and friends will be receiving my Christmas cards a bit late this year because I was so engrossed in making homemade Christmas cards.  I remembered that last year my Mom and I were talking about not being able to find Nativity or Biblical scenes on Christmas cards in the stores, and I have been going through an artistic/drawing phase lately, so I thought I’d try my hand at making cards my Mom would like.

My first attempt at drawing a Nativity scene lasted only a few minutes.  It was obvious that my final product was either going to look like a kindergartener drew it, or I’d have to take a lot of time (and eraser) to make it look “good”.  And I was pretty sure I didn’t have that much time, since I’d have to send them to Mom by snail-mail during the first week of December at the latest.

So, I started looking for images to use on the cover of the card.  First I tried taking photos of two manger scenes that I have, and played around with special effects.  That was fun, of course, but in the end I didn’t have anything that I thought Mom would like.  If you are looking for an unusual Nativity scene, you are welcome to these, 10 images in a Word document.  The ones at the bottom were my son’s favorites.

Next I looked on my clipart and Bible DVD’s for various images and photographs, and found 3 that had possibilities.  Then I Googled “copyright free nativity images” and I hit the jackpot:  THANK YOU, reuseableart.com! I found just what Mom and I would like, and more.

Inside of Card Front of one card

Click HERE to download (pdf file) or just to see how all of them turned out.  The first page shows the inside text used for all cards, followed by 7 different images and corresponding back covers (the first 2 are black and white images, the rest are color).  If you like them, feel free to use them!

I hope this is useful for you and that it brings to mind the true beauty of this season, and of the gift that God gave us for the taking, the gift of living life with Him.

* * * * * * * * * *

In case you’re interested in doing something like this, here are the steps I took:

I started by figuring out what card size I needed.  I’d bought a ton of red greeting card envelopes in the summer when the dollar store had them on sale (for 5 cents each!), so I had to make my cards so they fit in the envelopes.  I decided on a card stock size of 6” x 9″, which would fold to 4.5” x 6” to fit in a 5” x 7” envelope.

I used Open Office Impress (presentation software) and started with a blank slide.  On the Format/Page menu, I selected a custom-sized page and set it to 6×9 inches landscape.  Then I inserted the image on the right side, and a text box full of text on the left, which, after folding in the middle, would make the front and back.  One more similar slide with text on the left and right sides made the inside of the card.

For the inside left side text, I chose the lyrics from the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, a piece of music that I have loved ever since we sang it in choir in college.  For the inside right side text, I just wrote a short sentiment from the heart.

In the back cover text, I listed the title of the painting and the artist information, as well as a blurb about Handel and his work.  I saved my final files as pdf’s that would print on 8-1/2 x 11” card stock or paper, with the intention of using a paper cutter to trim the side and bottom to 6 x 9”.

My plan was to print onto my own card stock at the self-serve copy/print department of Staples office supply store, but I wasn’t allowed to do card stock on self-serve.  They had to do it themselves with their own very high quality expensive card stock, and it would be at least a week before they had time to do mine.

So I printed the black and white inside of the card at home on my laser printer, then printed the color sheets at Staples on regular white paper, and trimmed them using Staples’ paper cutter.  I attached the color pages to the outside of the cards with double-sided tape.

* * * * * * * * * *

This was originally posted December 18, 2012

Book review of The Bedside Book of the Art of Living

How could anyone resist this little book with such an intriguing and comforting title?  This is one of those gems that I looked forward to reading each day, and it was responsible for much sleep deprivation, since I couldn’t stop reading the narratives until I found out what would happen at the end.

 Book cvrs 014 title page

This is a collection of inspirational articles that originally appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine, and were compiled and published as a book in 1959.  Most of these are short vignettes or biographies about ordinary people who—through their tenacity, hard work, creative solutions, compassion—became extraordinary.  I can’t resist hearing about people’s lives, and I find hearing others’ stories to be the gentlest way possible to change my own character for the better.  How fortunate that books like this still circulate fifty years later!

The authors of the articles include Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Dorothy Kilgallen (remember the TV show “What’s My Line?”), Helen Keller, Norman Vincent Peale, Pearl S. Buck and five articles by Fulton Oursler.  They are filled with a variety of people, places, hardships, misery, joys, sadness and transformation.  Some of the lifestyles and perspectives are so different from today, and so refreshingly simple and helpful.

The titles show the broad range of topics: “I Owe My Career to Losing a Leg”, “The Child who Never Grew”, “A Formula for Presence of Mind”, “Rebirth of an American Farm”, “Forget It!”, “What the Sioux Taught Me”, “Billie Miskie’s Last Fight”.

Book cvrs 009 - Your Second Job

Here are some notes from my favorites:

From “Your Second Job”: “No matter how busy one is, any human being can assert his personality by seizing every opportunity for spiritual activity.  How?  By his second job, by means of personal action, on however small a scale, for the good of his fellow men.  He will not have to look very far for opportunities.”  The author, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, relates two examples, the first about an elderly man traveling by train to an unfamiliar city to visit his dying son; the second about a WW I cab driver declared too old for military service but wanting to serve somehow.  Through the compassion of a stranger, and through ingenuity and will, both men were successful.

Helen Keller, blind from birth, tells what she would do if she was granted three days to see.  Five articles are taken from the regular Reader’s Digest magazine column, “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Met”, and tell of men and women who are unusually determined, courageous and generous.

 Book cvrs 012 TOC middle

One long narrative, “When Are You Going to Turn Respectable?”, relates the experience of a man who had studied for several years at Harvard University.  But he ran out of money and had to get a job in a hurry, so in order to eat, he left behind his white collar lifestyle and took a job as a sweeper in a steel company.  By the end of the article he is explaining why he recommends that sort of work, as dirty and dangerous as it is, and says, “I’m more respectable now than I ever was.”

You can find The Bedside Book of the Art of Living at online booksellers.

Although I have little room on my bookshelves, and usually get rid of the books I’ve read to make room for more, I am squeezing this one back onto the shelf.  It’s a keeper, and a reference book I can return to as an antidote to change any kind of gloomy attitude to one of gratitude.

Book cvrs 006 - spine - cropped closed

At least these long Alberta winters bring photo ops

This time of the year I become impatient with the long Alberta winters, and homesick for Colorado, which has “reasonable” seasons.  But I do enjoy the unique images winter gives us, with the blinding white snow contrasting with the blue sky.  It’s nice to have a quiet outing, just me and my camera. Mallard Point 056

Mallard Point 069b

I took all these pictures within about a ten-minute walk from home.  (I had to keep changing the batteries and warming them up in my hands!)

Nature celebrating spring 197

Mallard Point 078

Here is a poem I found in Poems for a Good and Happy Life, a book by Myrna Reid Grant, that I keep by my bed.  It puts a warm feeling in me during the cold months.

December stillness, teach me through your trees
That loom along the west, one with the land,
The veiled evangel of your mysteries.
While nightfall, sad and spacious, on the down*
Deepens, and dust imbues me where I stand,
With grave diminishings of green and brown,
Speak, roofless nature, your instinctive words;
And let me learn your secret from the sky,
Following a flock of steadfast, journeying birds
In lone remote migration beating by.
December stillness, crossed by twilight roads,
Teach me to travel far and bear my loads.

“December Stillness” by Siegfried Sassoon

* “down” is an expanse of rolling, grassy upland used for grazing

And here is how it’s done by the pros, specifically Patrick Latter Photography, who I ran into on WordPress.  I’ve followed his blog for months, but this is still my favorite picture of his.

Lake Minnewanka by Night.

Those stars!  Breathtaking.

A photographer’s talent, determination and generosity, and the free gifts from the hand of a loving Creator: land, water, sky and stars.

Homemade Christmas Card Design – my gift to you!

My family and friends will be receiving my Christmas cards a bit late this year because I was so engrossed in making homemade Christmas cards.  I remembered that last year my Mom and I were talking about not being able to find Nativity or Biblical scenes on Christmas cards in the stores, and I have been going through an artistic/drawing phase lately, so I thought I’d try my hand at making cards my Mom would like.

My first attempt at drawing a Nativity scene lasted only a few minutes.  It was obvious that my final product was either going to look like a kindergartener drew it, or I’d have to take a lot of time (and eraser) to make it look “good”.  And I was pretty sure I didn’t have that much time, since I’d have to send them to Mom by snail-mail during the first week of December at the latest.

So, I started looking for images to use on the cover of the card.  First I tried taking photos of two manger scenes that I have, and played around with special effects.  That was fun, of course, but in the end I didn’t have anything that I thought Mom would like.  If you are looking for an unusual Nativity scene, you are welcome to these, 10 images in a Word document.  The ones at the bottom were my son’s favorites.

Next I looked on my clipart and Bible DVD’s for various images and photographs, and found 3 that had possibilities.  Then I Googled “copyright free nativity images” and I hit the jackpot:  THANK YOU, reuseableart.com! I found just what Mom and I would like, and more.

Inside of Card Front of one card

Click HERE to download (pdf file) or just to see how all of them turned out.  The first page shows the inside text used for all cards, followed by 7 different images and corresponding back covers (the first 2 are black and white images, the rest are color).  If you like them, feel free to use them!

I hope this is useful for you and that it brings to mind the true beauty of this season, and of the gift that God gave us for the taking, the gift of living life with Him.

* * * * * * * * * *

In case you’re interested in doing something like this, here are the steps I took:

I started by figuring out what card size I needed.  I’d bought a ton of red greeting card envelopes in the summer when the dollar store had them on sale (for 5 cents each!), so I had to make my cards so they fit in the envelopes.  I decided on a card stock size of 6” x 9″, which would fold to 4.5” x 6” to fit in a 5” x 7” envelope.

I used Open Office Impress (presentation software) and started with a blank slide.  On the Format/Page menu, I selected a custom-sized page and set it to 6×9 inches landscape.  Then I inserted the image on the right side, and a text box full of text on the left, which, after folding in the middle, would make the front and back.  One more similar slide with text on the left and right sides made the inside of the card.

For the inside left side text, I chose the lyrics from the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, a piece of music that I have loved ever since we sang it in choir in college.  For the inside right side text, I just wrote a short sentiment from the heart.

In the back cover text, I listed the title of the painting and the artist information, as well as a blurb about Handel and his work.  I saved my final files as pdf’s that would print on 8-1/2 x 11” card stock or paper, with the intention of using a paper cutter to trim the side and bottom to 6 x 9”.

My plan was to print onto my own card stock at the self-serve copy/print department of Staples office supply store, but I wasn’t allowed to do card stock on self-serve.  They had to do it themselves with their own very high quality expensive card stock, and it would be at least a week before they had time to do mine.

So I printed the black and white inside of the card at home on my laser printer, then printed the color sheets at Staples on regular white paper, and trimmed them using Staples’ paper cutter.  I attached the color pages to the outside of the cards with double-sided tape.

I Love Old Books!

As I mentioned in a previous post, my strategy when tackling huge used book sales is to go to the old books first. But I wonder why? What is it that makes the old books such a delight to me? It was probably my mom who instilled in me a love for old things that stand the test of time, and how I appreciate that, because otherwise I may have skipped the old for the new and missed such joys!

What really excites me is that a hundred-year-old book feels like my little piece of history; these bundles of paper have survived—with little or no aging—for a century! What else do we have that is a hundred years old? For example, can you imagine that the book you hold in your hand with the hundred-year-old copyright was ON THIS EARTH when the Titanic sank, all during World War I (did a soldier have your book in his backpack?), when the first talking movies were invented, when Alexander Fleming was discovering penicillin (could he have owned it?) and during the stock market crash of 1929?

Who bought it first? And how did it get from its first owner to its most recent owner (me)? Did it get handed down to a relative, who loaned it to a friend, who lost it while traveling on a ship and it was eventually found by another passenger years later, who kept it safe and sound in a drawer until giving it to a library, which eventually put it on a bargain table where someone bought it for an antique-lover, who finally donated it to the Calgary Crossroads Book Sale where I bought it?

Here is the first really old book I found, McGuffey’s Eclectic Fourth Reader, published in 1853 by Winthrop B Smith. In about 1990 I was browsing around one of the wonderful used book stores on 16 Avenue NW (that is no longer there), and when I told the owner that I collected old school readers, he said he didn’t have any upstairs, but I could look around in the basement. I picked through boxes and bags of books and found this gem. I think I paid $5 for it.

The spine is in rough shape, and it shows another document under the spine and the top left corner of the front cover. If anyone knows what that practice was for, let me know.

The front cover has a name stamped on it, my best guess being “J. Bruce Smith, HC CALGARY”. It makes me wonder if the schools stamped each book with the student’s name, or if that particular student stamped his own name on it. Or is the Smith on the cover related to the publisher Smith?

Inside the cover on the first page is an inscription (I love inscriptions!). It looks like “Elias N. ___, Jan. 3rd, 1859”.

It actually looks like 1839 to me, but in the text it says it was published in 1853.

The Table of Contents is filled with “Directions for Reading” and interesting-looking Prose and Poetry Lessons, some by authors we still read today.   Here is a readable version of the Table of Contents.

In the back there is a refund notice: “Refund 2.50 if returned before June 20, 1932, A.W. ___”. It’s interesting to think that around 1932 the book was already 80 years old, so perhaps it was in the reference section of a library.

Wow, this book was around during the California Gold Rush, and in the same year the Washington Territory was created from the Oregon Territory. Maybe some of the children in the covered wagons did their schooling from my book. Vincent Van Gogh was born, in 1953, and Napoleon was married that same year. This book on my shelf was published almost 10 years BEFORE the U.S. Civil War began. Did a ten-year-old student worry about his father fighting in Gettysburg while turning these very pages?

Enough pondering. I would so love to hear about some of your favorite old books! I hope you’ll post a comment below, or even send me photos, so we can trade stories.

There is Much More to this Shakespeare than Culture

Ah, it’s finally summertime! You’re making plans to go camping on a lake, watch the sunset on the beach, hike to a mountain vista, or perhaps…stay in for a night in the city? Sure, why not? It’s Shakespeare-in-the-Park-Time, and I’m so excited!

Aside from hiking, the summer treat that thrills me the most is Calgary’s outdoor presentation of Shakespeare in the Park (SITP). Many cities around the world feature this outdoor theatre experience for the whole family, and here it is produced by the Drama Department of Mount Royal University and Theatre Calgary.

Now, if you are not “into Shakespeare” and can’t imagine sitting through an evening of it, please hear me out. I am not the type of person who gravitates toward the theatre, nor am I a student of Shakespeare. So what draws me to SITP?

First, it’s outdoors. When the weather report shows pictures of smiling suns I make plans to head downtown with my lawn chair, picnic supper, and a friend who has never been to SITP. The visually stunning venue is Prince’s Island Park in the Bow River where it flows alongside downtown Calgary. It is a short walk across the pedestrian bridge from a parking area and beside colorful Eau Claire Market, which features hanging baskets of multi-colored flowers, a wading pool full of children in their swim suits, street performers, wildlife and a fountain.

After receiving a program from one of the young volunteers, you set up your lawn chair near the top of the hill, or spread your blanket nearer the stage, surrounded by a park full of lush grass and enormous shade trees. Or, if you want to be right in front of the stage, you can reserve a spot up front. During the performance the sun gradually drops low on your left, but just as it starts to shine in your eyes, the poplars block it.

Instead of packing your own picnic, you can pre-order a creative dinner basket of food from the nearby River Cafe, the listed options including such words as hummus, seasonal, red-fife ciabatta, organic, Portabella, arugula, brie, hand-rolled, house-made, and goodie-filled. If you didn’t bring your own food or order it, or you want a treat during the intermission, the little Bard’s Bistro at the top just behind the lawn chairs provides drinks and simple snacks of popcorn, hot dogs and ice cream. When was the last time you were able to enjoy a double-scoop of Rocky Road during a theatre intermission?

I always look forward to some very un-Shakespearian costumes and music incorporated into the wholly-Shakespeare dialogue. During a recent performance, for example, the costumes were 1930’s wear, and the prop transitions and scene entrances featured music by Queen. The previous summer costumes included pink hoop skirts with embroidered kitty cats, bobby socks and oxfords, and fifties’ music.

Although very entertaining, I find that the acting is not the only activity attracting my attention. During the performance I enjoy watching the myriads of skateboarders, bikers, dog-walkers, and roller-bladers that pass by. Many of them are curious to find out what the crowd and music and laughter are all about and they’ll stop to watch a few minutes of the performance before continuing on. It gives me a thrill to see so many people enjoying the warm evenings in so many ways.

It’s fun to keep an eye out for the comings and goings of the actors and actresses to the backstage area. There is only one “building” that houses the entire production—a two-story set which is ingeniously versatile—and sometimes I catch the performers trying to escape unnoticed by walking slowly in a wide arc away from the stage and through the trees in order to get to the hill above and behind the audience.

A new scene often begins with several players speaking their opening lines as they skip down the steep grassy pathway in the midst of the audience. Scenes also often end with actors leaping off the stage and sprinting up that same center path until they are out of sight behind the snack shack. The whole thing charms me no end.
Since one of the annual sponsors of SITP is the Calgary Flames Hockey Team, once or twice during the breaks in action the director will shout out a trivia question about a Shakespearean play, and the first person to run up the hill and tell the answer wins tickets to a Flames game.

The payment for the performance is “pay what you will,” with a suggested donation of $25, and you can drop money in a box at any time before, during, or after the play. But I hold on to mine until the end, when the actors and actresses meander through the blankets and lawn chairs with a donation basket and chat with members of the audience. I like to tell them face-to-face how much I enjoyed the play and thank them for an all-around full and satisfying evening.

This summer features A Midsummer Night’s Dream June 27th to August 10th, Wednesday through Sunday evenings at 7 P.M. and weekend matinees at 2 P.M.  (note that there are no performances July 25-29).

Wherever you live, check out your own performance of Shakespeare in the Park. I promise that if you do, you will have a new appreciation for the theatre. Who knows? You might even admit to your friends that you are into Shakespeare!

Used Book Sales

THANK YOU CALGARY CROSSROADS MARKET BOOK SALE (BLACKFOOT AND 26TH AVENUE) FOR HELPING TO SUPPORT SERVANTS ANONYMOUS.

Ever since the end of winter I’ve looked forward to the giant used book sales held every spring. I admit that I go for the joy of being surrounded by so many books and so many book lovers. And this year the shoppers included plenty of young girls and boys who were just as intense and excited as their parents at finding their own treasures. That was a bonus thrill.

I don’t need any more books, of course. I need less books because I’ve started to set stacks of books beside my bookcase. But I do now have a strategy when I go to these sales. I head straight for the “antique” book section, and there I focus on the old children’s books first, and then all the rest. After that, I browse quickly through the other sections, slowing down at the health, Christian and writing books, and settling in at the children’s books.

Last Friday I used some banked time to leave work 2 hours early in order to beat the weekend rush to the first weekend of the SAS sale at Crossroads Market. And the place was already packed!

Here is one of my new treasures:

     Have you ever seen anything like this?

It’s a Christmas Keepsake “book” that opens up to a collection of Christmas ornaments…

…which are small, very-condensed classic books.

It has a publication date of 2000, and is well-protected by plastic film that can be opened and closed as you look at the books.

It can be used as an advent calendar…

…you find each day’s book, read it, and then hang it on the tree. Ingenious!

I’ll be posting more of my gems soon.

Now let me ask you…

…do you have some gems that you’ve picked up while treasure-hunting? Do share!  Titles, years, photos…we want to enjoy them with you!

Better Books and Bibles, a Bookstore in Calgary

UPDATE ON MARCH 1, 2014 – BETTER BOOKS AND BIBLES HAS MOVED TO 636 16 Ave NW.  PLEASE SEE THE POST ABOUT THE NEW STORE, HERE.

“Endeavouring to bring you treasures, both old and new”

I am delighted that there is a new bookstore in Calgary, which is not only new books, but also used books, and not only that but also Christian books. What more could I want?

When Pilgrim Books closed in 2011 after 25 years of business, I was shocked. Weren’t there plenty of people like me who considered it a Mecca for booklovers and treasure hunters? I felt a bit lost, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized it had been my ultimate destination in the city, and I’d miss the women that worked there.

Then I read a blurb in City Light News about Better Books and Bibles, a store that had purchased much of the stock of Pilgrim Books. Yahoo!

The store is easily accessible, at 636 16th Avenue NW, near Peter’s Drive-In, SAIT or Motel Village, a couple of doors down from White’s Flowers. It is full of treasures, as I’d hoped it would be. Robert greeted me as I paid my first visit and he gave me a quick tour. I surveyed the colorful shiny new books in the entranceway, and I found the store filled with cozy nooks and inviting little rooms for various categories. Later, Robert introduced me to David, the manager. I recognized some of my “old friends” and eventually (I was there for over an hour) brought some of them home with me.

The prices are more than reasonable, comparable to the former Pilgrim Books and lower than most used bookstores. Here’s how you can reach Better Books and Bibles:

Website and email: www.booksandbibles.ca , bbookbib@telus.net
Phone: (403) 233-2409

Do drop by and check out the riches of this store and the friendly staff.

A Personal Celebration

Joy to the world! the Lord is come; let earth receive her king.

–Isaac Watts, Joy to the World

All week I’ve had this song in my mind. I’d start many days with it as a way to counter my early morning tangle of thoughts and concerns. It has been refreshing to correct my thinking with this truth.

Today is Christmas. Shopping and wrapping, feasting and laughing and hugging, church and singing have all brought me so much joy. Now, at this moment I am alone. We’re not supposed to be alone at Christmas, apparently, but it can be lovely.

I have just walked through a snowy forest, said “Merry Christmas” to large families I passed on the path, breathed in the aromatic blue smoke of campfires and watched the children sled down the hill. I am also thinking about the true meaning of Christmas, and checking to see if I really do celebrate it.

Does Christ’s birth make such a difference in my life that I actually rejoice about it? Yes, I realize it does. God came to earth as a human being, and my most essential needs are satisfied by what Jesus accomplished.

He rules the world with truth and grace

I am truly at peace. I guess that’s because I believe that the important things are taken care of. I have peace with God, a clear conscience, and I rest in the hope of heaven and eternal life. The God of all creation forgave—and forgives—me, because Jesus paid for my life with his.

I have an overall purpose in life, and that is satisfying. I am humble when I sit down to talk to God, but I am not timid because he is full of grace. I feel important and valuable to him, and when I ask for his help for a loved one, or myself, I am certain that he is moved to action.

Wonders of his love

When things go wrong, when something frightens or upsets me, I know that eventually I can find understanding and guidance. The Bible is full of help and promises that God’s spirit will teach and comfort us. Even the very act of praying begins to set things right.

Now as I leave the forest and drive home on sparsely populated streets, I smile as I see empty parking lots in front of all the stores and businesses, because it means that as a society we have chosen to honor this day, and cease from our other distractions.

This holiday—this holy day—celebrates the fact that Almighty God wanted to draw close to us. He wanted this so much that he came to live on this earth through his human son, Jesus, and made himself visible, audible, touchable, loveable and most importantly, REACHABLE.

This is what I’m celebrating.

Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.