Friday, November 29, 2013

Have Yourself A Merry Minted Christmas (+Giveaway!)

I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve always loved the idea of sending holiday cards, at least as a grown-up. We used to get a ton of them in the mail when I was little and I always found them to be vaguely boring. It was just a thing people did, and the best I could figure out, it was more of a symbolic gesture to indicate people that they were important to you and that you were thinking of them, even if you rarely spoke. I had heard my grandparents talk about their network of acquaintances, wartime buddies or fellow traveling companions or people that they had met somewhere or another, that they’d become friendly with and had started exchanging Christmas cards with. It was an acknowledgment of some obscure yet specific layer of intimacy, if you were acquainted well enough with somebody to include them on your Christmas card list, and vice versa. I think you hear it a lot with older generations – people they knew once, they’d mostly lost touch with, but they still exchanged holiday cards. It’s kind of a romantic notion; nowadays we’re connected with everyone we’ve ever met, however briefly or insignificantly, via social media, so the concept of the “holiday card bond” is kind of moot.

And yet… I’ve always returned to that idea. A few years back, I decided that one of my duties as an Official Adult was that I start sending holiday cards to friends and family. It was something I just felt compelled to do. It’s not a particularly cheap endeavor, what with the rising costs of postage and the actual purchasing of the cards to send, but I think I am still holding on to that sentiment of correspondence: a holiday card is symbolic of friendship and fondness. I don’t do a lot of gift-giving anymore, but I always make sure to send cards. It’s my own little way of spreading holiday cheer.

Now, there is a general tendency for holiday cards to be one of four things: festive yet generic storebought cards, custom cards with pictures of kids/family, custom cards with pictures from a recent wedding, or a letter full of humblebragging about all the great things that happened to your family over the year. (Please note that the Letter can accompany any of the three options preceding it in the list.) There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these; I tend to favor photo cards because I like looking at people’s pictures. The letters… I’m torn on the letters. On the one hand, sometimes it’s nice to get an update on someone’s life, especially if they’ve moved or had other significant life events. On the other… yeah, a lot of the time it just sounds like thinly veiled boasting and/or sugarcoating the details of one’s existence in order to sound interesting. In other words, a printed version of facebook.

I think I did the festive yet generic storebought cards for a couple years… but one fateful year, I decided it would be hilarious to send out holiday cards featuring my cat. Having neither kids, a family of my own, or a recent engagement/wedding, it had never really occurred to me to do photo cards. It just seemed slightly narcissistic to send people a picture of myself. A photo of a cat would be a bit tongue-in-cheek and also somewhat adorable. Besides, I can make holiday pet puns until I’m blue in the face. It’s a gift.

I wasn’t content to stop there, though. Oh no. I put my cat in a Santa suit designed for pets and a grand tradition was born. I’m not even sure what the response was that first year; I’m sure a couple of people were amused, but no one more so than myself. In years that followed, there was an elf suit, a simple Santa hat, and my personal favorite from last year, an ugly sweater. One year I decided to design a pretty card with snowflakes and sentiment and no photos; it was super boring and I have always sort of regretted it. I can’t tell you what this year’s theme is yet because that would totally ruin the surprise, but I’m pretty pleased with it. Kitty was a marvelously well-behaved model this year and I got the winning shot in less than ten takes. I think she’s learning.

As far as the cards themselves, the actual, physical pieces of paper upon which my incredibly amazing cat photos are displayed, it’s been varied. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done holiday photo cards from an online vendor, mostly because Shutterfly either stopped doing their blogger promotion program or stopped inviting me to do their blogger promotion program. Either way, I wasn’t getting free cards anymore and, all things being equal, it was slightly cheaper to just design my own and have them printed up. May as well put that graphic design degree to use, right? Since I’ll be paying it off for the REST OF MY LIFE. (Hyperbole alert!) I’m very proud of how fridge-worthy my cards are, and yes, I am fully aware that this has everything to do with my cat and nothing to do with me.

I’ve thought about going back to a vendor, because it’s quicker and easier to just drop in a photo and pick from their pretty designs, but… I don’t know. It didn’t quite feel like “me” anymore. I could always find designs that I liked, but it was always choosing from what was just... there. I also developed kind of a peeve about being forced into cards that say “the [whatever] family” because… it’s weird. Me and my cat do not a family make. Which was the point of using my cat in the first place. So for the last couple years I did my own, 100% custom, for better or worse.

About two days after I ordered my cards this year (go figure), I was contacted by the good folks at Minted about doing a site review featuring their holiday card collection. I poked around a bit and decided that yes, yes I would. Because their cards are beautiful. If I could take all of my Pinterest boards and throw them into a blender and then turn the subsequent visual smoothie into stationery and cards, it would be the general aesthetic of the offering on Minted. (Aaaand that right there is a sentence they’re totally going to want to use for future marketing. Ha.) 

I think my favorite part of reviews like this is that I get to pick out all the designs that I maybe would have chosen as kind of runner-ups to what I actually end up with. Kind of like having the best of both worlds. Here are all the possible cards you could have received from me. If you don’t like the one you got, pretend it was one of these instead. Or something. I’m a bit peeved that I already ordered my cards but I love their regular stationery too so I guess it’ll all work out in the end.

The first thing that caught my eye was the cards that are made to look like they have glitter. I love me some glitter, especially when it comes to the holidays. I actually incorporated some into my own design, but theirs is definitely better executed than mine. And the best part about the trompe l'oeil effect is that you don’t infect all of your recipients with a houseful of sparkle from now until next Thanksgiving. Everyone wins!

[link for this design, because I am helpful]

They’ve also got cards with foil. Because SHINY. There are a couple cards that look like they have foil (which I’m guessing are a bit more economical) and versions that have Actual Foil (which I’m guessing are a bit more awesome.)

(Top | Bottom)

I rather love this one too, you can customize it to your location. Midwest pride! (Or East Coast or West Coast, if that's your thing.)

Below, you can see where I took a screenshot of the personalization preview screen. It's super easy to edit and move, and they have a designer work on it and send you a proof before printing.

Actually, let's talk about their customization for a minute. Most sites only let you fill in your names and photos. The rest is pretty stock. However, on these, you can edit everything, from the message to the location - you can drag it wherever you want and make it say whatever you want. And on some cards, that flexibility is extra awesome.

Take this card, for example. You can move, reposition, or delete the halos as needed to match your photo. I'm not sure if you can add one or not (I didn't try), but I am incredibly impressed by how much you can personalize these and make them fit your needs.

With almost all of the designs (at least all of the ones that caught my eye), you have a few different color schemes to choose from and a few other ways to customize your cards, like choosing a shape (you're not confined to either "square corners" or "round corners" either), adding a backer, or even matching address labels. I am a huge dork about having matching address labels. The problem is I never use them all because address labels always come in higher quantities than my cards, so now I have a big mish-mash of assorted holiday-esque address labels, and I am forcing myself to use those this year instead of getting new ones. ADMIRE MY DISCIPLINE, EVERYONE.

*cough* Anyway. They’ve also got a bunch of nice, clean, lovely cards. Cards that I wish I had nice pictures to put in. Cards that are probably suited for couples and families and kids, but no matter. Someday I’m going to take an artistic black and white photo of my cat and that will be my holiday card. Maybe next year, in fact. *NOTE TO SELF*

[clockwise: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

They've also got some unique and clever designs. I love the tag shape of these and the concept behind each of them. The one on the right is all the things the Letter is, without being obnoxious or boasty. The one on the left is an absolutely adorable card for a family with a new baby.

[left | right]

Another nifty thing they have are ornament cards. Cards that are ornaments! The only thing I don’t love about those is that they probably have to go in square envelopes which require extra postage, but there are ways around that. Like sticking them in regular envelopes. Like I do with square birthday cards because I’m a cheapskate.

Lastly, this has less to do with design and more with the site itself, but I absolutely love that they depict something other than "Mom-Dad-Kid1-Kid2" and represent other types of family.

I mean, JUST LOOK at this adorable couple. I've yet to see any other holiday card site be cool enough to break outside the traditional mainstream paradigm. Kudos to Minted on that one.

I could probably sit and do this all night. They've got a ton of great designs and pretty unlimited possibilities with all the ways you can personalize your cards to make them your own. If you haven’t ordered your holiday cards yet (which I’m guessing most of you haven’t, since you’re not all crazy-obsessive like I am), you should definitely hop on over to their site and check out their options

Need some more motivation to go look? How about a $25 credit? BECAUSE I'M GETTING MY OPRAH ON AND I HAVE $25 TO GIVE TO ONE OF YOU MAGNIFICENT CREATURES. Just leave me a comment telling me what your favorite design is (because I'm nosy and like to see what other people's taste is) and boom! You're entered. If you want a bonus entry (I know you do), go ahead and tweet. I don't care what you say as long as it's nice and as long as you mention me (@kelalea) and @Minted. Winner will be drawn and announced via blog post/email/tweet/carrier pigeon on or around noonish on Friday, December 6.

Disclaimer’d: I was given site credit in exchange for a review of Minted and their holiday card collection. I do love me some pretty holiday cards. All opinions are my own, as always. 

**** UPDATE ****

Drumroll please...

Congrats to....

STACEY!!!! I'll be emailing you shortly with your code.

Thanks for participating, everyone!

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's the Great Halloween Recap Post, Charlie Brown

Halloween is one of those holidays that I'd really love to love, but it seems like I rarely have anything to do for it, and it's hard to muster up the excitement to create a clever costume if you've got nowhere to wear it. Not that that necessarily stops me... I just perhaps don't go as all-out as I should. My friends need to start having Halloween parties again. I miss those.

First things first... the kitty costume. She was pretty much possessed by the devil last Halloween so I didn't even try to dress her up, but she's been a good kitty this year so it was time to bring the tradition back.

Behold... Frankenkitty!

Next, my spur-of-the moment Wednesday night costume idea. I had zero plans for Halloween this year (as is what frequently happens when the holiday falls on a weeknight) but I couldn't help myself. As soon as I saw it in Target, I knew.

It's like I have ESPN or something.

I channeled my inner Karen Smith and it was great. We went and got "Boo-ritos" at Chipotle ($3 if you're wearing a costume!) and once I fully explained my costume (my costume of a person wearing a costume?) she told me that I was her hero. It redeemed all the times I have wept for society.

It was my little nephew's first Halloween, and he seemed to enjoy it. I mean, he obviously doesn't grasp the concept of trick-or-treating yet, but he seemed perfectly content in his little costume.

(Despite my profound affection for koalas, I actually had no hand in picking this out. Which made it even more awesome.)

I also made some pretty sweet looking Halloween cookies. It's my recipe for "Christmas" sugar cookies but I decided to break tradition and make them early this year. It was kind of fun to have new shapes and colors to work with.

Laaaaaaaast but not least, I never got around to posting my Halloween costume from last year, which is a shame, because I was pretty pleased with it. Even more so because it was super last minute because I changed my mind about four times about what I wanted to be.

If you don't know who this is, then... um... well you're probably pretty young and I just proved how old I am. Whatever, don't care.

Anyway. I spent my Halloween watching such timeless classics as Hocus Pocus (side note: that movie came out twenty years ago. How's that for feeling old? Oy) and eating a burrito bowl. Oh, and I carved a pumpkin for the first time in, mehhhhhhhhhh I don't know, ten years? Fifteen? I can't even remember. I opted to go for a traditional look rather than "cheating" and using one of the patterns that came with the carving kit. (Side note: I was really skeptical about the quality of the cheapy tools from the aforementioned kit... but you know what? They worked great. Who knew?)

Incidentally, this was the very first jack-o-lantern in which I scooped the "guts" out myself. That was always a job left to my dad. Because: squishy and gross. Obviously. Therefore, this pumpkin is probably the best one ever. Because I did it all by myself. I suppose I could cross that off of my abandoned list of "things to do before I turn 30."

It's the little victories, people.