Holiday Cards on a Budget

I love getting mail any day, but I especially love getting holiday cards in the mail this time of year. My family never did it while I was growing up, so when Nathaniel and I moved in together, I decided to make it a tradition. The first few years we didn’t have that many people on our list, so I ordered them online. I could justify the price because we were only getting a few dozen cards.

2017 - Photo of us by Maddie Camilli. Photo of my fur babies just by me. I’m so glad I got this picture of them, as little Munch is no longer with us.

But as the years went by, our list got big. Especially after we got married. Last year we sent out 136. No joke! On average, the beautiful cards I see online tend to be a couple dollars a piece (with options for foil and borders which can drive it up, but they do usually include an envelope, which is great). But with a mortgage, a recent kitchen remodel, and trying to save money to do fun things, I just can’t justify spending $260+ dollars on cards. And that’s not even including postage.

2013 - Taken with a self timer. Can you find the hidden bunny?

I’ve also never splurged for a professional photographer. My sister, Maddie Camilli, is an amazing photographer, so I haven’t felt the need. I typically pay her back with a meal or baked goods. We’ve also just set up a tripod, and we’ve even just used fun photos from throughout the year before. Honestly my favorite was from 2016. We went on our belated honeymoon and I chose selfies from each country we visited in Europe and then put “Merry Christmas” in the native languages by each photo. No professional photos at all, and most of the pictures we chose were taken with our GoPro! I LOVE that thing.

If you don’t care much about text, you could always just do a photo, but I usually embellish at least a little. I use Photoshop, but if you don’t have access to that, you could probably use a word processor, or a free online photo editor. I like to find cute fonts ( has a ton of free ones), and sometimes I do Google image searches for free clipart, like holly leaves, stars, lights, menorahs, whatever! A tip, though, leave a little wiggle room at the edges - I’ve had text and snowflakes cut off because I put them too close to the edge and the printing process isn’t 100% perfect.

2014 - Combo of self-timer and adorable pet pics from the year

We (well, I) have found a good “hack” if you will these past few years. Rather than getting professional cards done, I design my own and get them printed as 4x6 photos. I’ve been going through Walgreens the past couple years because they have the lowest price I’ve found, and I can usually pick them up the same day I order them. So not only do I save on the cards themselves, but I don’t have to pay shipping! And last year I happened to order while they were having a sale for 10¢ prints, which meant I paid $14 + tax for the photos! I always order a couple extra just in case. Plus I want to keep one for myself!

I’ve toyed with the idea of getting our cards printed on card stock and sending them as post cards, but so far I have always decided to send them in envelopes instead. I figure they’re a bit more protected that way. I like to just get envelopes (size A6 for photos) at Staples, because we have one locally. This year I just walked in and bought three boxes of 50 white envelopes for $9 a box (plus tax). The downside is that you can’t get the exact number you need, but I’ve just used extras for other mail throughout the year, or used them the next year, sometimes mixing and matching colors of envelopes.

2015 - Photo: Maddie Camilli. Also, fun fact, it’s hard to get this doofy dog to pose normally. We had a lot of funny outtakes 😂 And do you spy the hidden bunny?

Honestly, the biggest expenditure is the stamp. I bought 140 forever stamps and one international stamp, which cost $69.75, but usually this time of year, you can choose a cute design, and if you have to buy a few extras, well, that’s not a bad thing to have lying around the house.

I usually hand-write addresses. I’ve printed out labels before, but because I do it so infrequently, I always forget the process and it seems to take just as much time researching the best way and formatting everything as it does to just write them out. I knocked all ours out in a couple hours. Just queue up a Christmas movie on Netflix and you’ll be fine. When we moved into our house I had a stamp made with our address, so that’s saved me some time these past couple years, but writing that out isn’t so bad either.

So last year all in all I spent:

  • Walgreens: $15.24 (11¢ a picture)

  • Staples: $27.72 (19¢ an envelope)

  • USPS: $69.75 (49¢ a stamp)

That’s a grand total of $112.71, INCLUDING tax and postage. If you break it down by card, that’s just 79¢ each, with a few extra envelopes, cards and stamps just in case. I’d say that’s a win. Another big benefit for me is that I didn’t have to wait to get anything shipped, which is super convenient! And if you don’t have a crazy long list like we do, you’ll save even more ;)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year… Whatever you celebrate (or don’t), I hope you are well and get to enjoy some special time with the people you love!

2016 - Featuring selfies of our belated honeymoon, mostly taken with our GoPro, plus candids of the fur babies. This is by far my favorite card I’ve designed!!

PS: I actually applied this method to our wedding party invitations and thank you cards, too! Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE cards and if money were no object, I might go with some of those beautiful professionally designed cards for invitations and holiday cards. Especially those ones with foil accents… but at this point in our lives, it just doesn’t make sense to splurge on that.

Kitchen Update

With October came the realization that we've been without a fully functional kitchen for SIX MONTHS. Holy cow! 

In early April we discovered mold caused by an eroding old pipe (our house was built in the 50s, and had all the original plumbing in the kitchen), which drove us toward a kitchen remodel a bit sooner than we originally intended. So why are we here, a half a year later, and still not finished? I suppose you can always blame your contractor, right? Just kidding  We are using someone who has worked with our families before, and knows what he's doing, but he's also verrryyy busy, so he wasn't able to start until last month.

Our plywood kitchen

We had been living with our little plywood kitchen since the mold was removed and the sink was reinstalled with the new, non-leaky pipes. We had our electric range, dishwasher, microwave and toaster oven, so we could do pretty much anything, we just didn't have nearly as much counter space or storage space as we did before the mold mitigation. Cooking was hard because not everything was in the kitchen and we had limited resources to work with, but it was doable as a temporary kitchen until we got underway with the new one.

Our temp kitchen

Now we've been living without an actual kitchen for just a few weeks. We moved the old fridge downstairs, where it will continue to live since we're getting new appliances, and who doesn’t need a beer fridge in the basement? 😉 Our temp kitchen, while livable, doesn’t have all the things we’re used to having, like a dishwasher, an oven or a stove. We bought a one-burner induction stove (convenient to have as people who love cooking anyway), which I have successfully warmed food in and boiled pasta, but very much burned a batch of popcorn. We’ve also got a toaster oven, rice cooker, sous vide, crock pot, coffee maker, microwave, and an ok sink (no garbage disposal), plus these are all things we can use in a fully functional kitchen as well.

What have I learned (so far)?

  • I could probably have coordinated a bunch of this myself, without a contractor, but it’s nice not having to stay at home to meet with plumbers, electricians, and the like.
  • You always will spend more than you think. We signed a sort of maximum-cost contract, but there are clauses that basically say things can go up anyway, and they’re always going to find little things here and there (like the fact that our garage to kitchen door wasn’t up to code, so we needed a new door)
  • It’s hard to eat super well with a limited kitchen - I’ve been struggling to get enough veggies in my daily diet.
  • Things feel extremely slow, even though they’re totally going faster than I think. A lot of the headway is invisible, or even looks destructive, at first. Now that things look a little different everyday, I have more of a sense of progress, because I am a visual person. Also, taking down that darn plastic wall made a HUGE difference.

It felt like our kitchen looked like this for FOREVER, even though they were working around the clock everyday.

  • If you’ve got a partner (spouse, SO, boyfriend, hubby, whatever), you’ll find that you may care about completely different things. For example, my hubby helped pick out counter, cabinet and paint colors, but doesn’t care about the sink, faucet or handles. For me, the sink was a BIG deal because I HATED the sink we had, but he couldn’t have cared less. I, on the other hand, don't care about the texture of the walls as long as they're easy to clean.
  • Inspectors care about some things a lot, and others not at all. For example, we ended up needing insulation and a fire door because of code, but we’re not required to have a range hood. The more you know.

We’re a little more than 2 weeks out from being done (minus walk-throughs after everything is installed, making sure we’re happy and everything is perfect. Right now is a lot of waiting because a bulk of the work was able to be done before we could get a template done for our countertops, and of course we have to wait a few weeks between template and installation.

It is coming along, though 

Our floor should be finished tomorrow, and then we get to paint this weekend! Woohoo!

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Learning to Slow Down

I spent my sick days drinking cup after cup of tea and/or soup, reading, journaling, watching TV... it was practically perfect, minus the whole cough part.

I've never been good at taking time for myself. Not to just sit and be still, at least. It's partly because I say yes to (probably too many) things, and partly because my mind is constantly spinning with new ideas. I tend to overbook myself, albeit with fun things for the most part. I mostly enjoy my life, but I find myself constantly tired, and my to-do list never gets any shorter. You should see my list of passions/hobbies. It includes so many songs to record, ideas to write, outfits to sew, projects to craft... That's why I had to work on my creative space - it wasn't working in my favor.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago I got sick - nothing major, don't be too alarmed. It was just a really annoying cough, and it came at a super inopportune time, because I had choir concerts the next weekend, and as a singer, it's rough not being able to use your instrument.

I slept as much as possible the first night of this sickness, hoping it would pass quickly. I had been hoping the pesky cough was just because we went to a loud concert the night before. But instead, I woke up the next morning and it was WORSE! So I decided to skip everything, even my routine Saturday morning yoga class, sleeping more than I have in ages, and asking hubby to bring me soup because I was pathetic 😜 JK, but he was super sweet and helped me as much as he could. Sunday was a little better, but I still took it easy, skipping my workout, and instead catching up on some journaling, reading and TV.

You don't need daily recaps from the rest of my illness, but what I'm getting at is that I think my body was telling me something. I pride myself in how little I get sick, actually. Before this, I don't specifically remember the last time I had a cold. I used to get sick a lot, especially when I was in school. I think it was because of stress, lack of sleep and not taking proper care of myself. I didn't prioritize my fitness or my nutrition, on top of having a full-time school schedule and a part-time job. Once I really started on my fitness journey a couple years ago, yes, I started to fit in my clothes better and I gained confidence, but I also felt more energized, and I got sick a lot less.

I think maybe this cold came about to tell me to slow down, sleep more, and focus on me a bit more. Even though I've been doing my best to keep up with my fitness routine, it isn't leaving me as energized as it used to, and I definitely haven't been eating as many veggies as I should be. On top of that, I don't sleep enough (it's soooo hard to wake up in the morning), and almost every day has something planned.

I'm better now, but I think I need to re-work my daily routine so I get to sleep more, and I need to re-assess what is important right now. For my own sake (both physically and mentally). Taking time for myself needs to be more of a priority.

Letting Go

I've always been a bit of a pack rat. I'm super nostalgic, and I find sentimental attachment to all sorts of things. I have lofty aspirations to do creative, crafty things with ticket stubs, cards, letters, other random pieces of paper, drawings, old pictures, funny cutouts from magazines... I wouldn't say I'm a hoarder, because I don't like clutter, either. Things get put away, and on a good day, I'm actually pretty proud of how nice my house looks. But in rearranging and reorganizing my craft room, which was kick started by the amazing mirror I got at Ikea, I have decided that I need to be better about letting go of things. Odds are I'm not going to start a project around a picture I decided to print out eight years ago, so why keep it?

Things are slowly looking better in the craft room! Now I can see all my fabric, and the space is feeling more functional than ever. Eventually I think I want to paint it white, too!

Anyway, while cleaning up my space, especially after hanging the mirror, I was thinking that I want the room to be even more functional. I have a nice big table, and my fabric is all neatly folded (for now), and I have a sketch book I use to try to flesh out my ideas, but I don't have a place to visually put things together, leave them there, add to, change, and then re-do for the next project. Sounds like I need something like a cork board, right? Would you believe that there are already TWO hanging in my craft room? But Kathryn, how do you have two big beautiful bulletin boards that do not help you creatively? Isn't that what bulletin boards are for??

In high school, I bought a cork board, which ended up turning into a sort of scrapbook that hangs on my wall. I liked it so much, and kept acquiring stuff, that I bought a second one (same exact size/type), and did the same thing. Remember that list of things I keep from above? I covered these cork boards with odds and ends like movie tickets, fun pictures with friends, silly jokes, etc. Oh, and Disney pins instead of thumbtacks for the most part. I worked hard to cover nearly every square inch of these boards. I tried my best to create a seemingly random layout, though it took me way longer than true randomness ever would, because I was deliberate about my randomness...

A lot of good memories here 

While I love the work I did on these boards, I realize they don't fit into the aesthetic I want my creative space to have. I've thought about just buying a new cork board, but then I would have to find new places for these to hang, and I don't want them in our living room, kitchen, bedroom, guest bedroom, or any other place in the house, really. So I've come to the conclusion that it's time to press forward. They've served their purpose, and now they move on to their next purpose: helping me cultivate craftiness in my life, being more adaptable, not just permanent fixtures on the wall.

After stripping the boards of their adornments, I painted the frames black, and lined the edges with sparkly black washi tape. The tape doesn't stick to cork super well, so I used flat gold thumbtacks to keep it in place (I used a tape measure to space them as perfectly as possible). I bought some mini black clothespins and hot glued them to some thumbtacks so I could hang up pictures and inspiration without punching holes in them. I thought it was kinda cute. All in all, it was a fairly inexpensive project. I needed 2 rolls of the tape ($3 each), a pack of thumbtacks ($3), acrylic paint (about $2, but I had some already), mini clothespins ($3 for a pack of 20), a paintbrush and a hot glue gun (I already had the last two supplies). I'm pretty happy with how these turned out, and I'm excited for how they might help my creative process!

Yes, I'm creating a deeper meaning from cork boards from high school. I've never been good at letting go of things, and tackling what to some might be a trivial project feels like a good way to show myself that this is ok. That I can rely on memories and pictures (of COURSE I took pictures of these to immortalize my teenage-self's hard work), and that it's ok for life to change and that sometimes we do need to let go in order to grow and flourish.

So here's to letting go of things that don't serve a purpose anymore. Here's to the fond memories created. Here's to new endeavors, and allowing my creative wings to stretch a little bit farther and easier.