Sunday, January 10, 2016

CDP Exch*nge 2016, #1

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who has left comments on the Tell Me a Story post! PLEASE, FEEL FREE to keep leaving comments whenever you think of a new story!!

Everybody good with "short and to the point"?

If this is your first time signing up, you haven't signed up in a while and need to be reminded, or this post doesn't have enough details for you, go here to read the usual post (just remember to use the dates on this post).

If you want to register for this exch*nge, email me the usual information by 9:00p.m. Eastern Time, Friday, January 22nd, and I will work on assignments as soon as I get up on Saturday! Please send your package no later than Saturday, February 20th!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Tell Me a Story (Updated)

I need your help, Internet. This is a rough week for me, so I'd really appreciate it if you would tell me a story (or two or three or however many you can think of). Tell me about times when you tried to do something kind and thoughtful for someone, and that made their day or turned out to be JUST the thing they didn't even realize they needed. Or you carefully planned the BEST! SURPRISE! EVER! for someone and it turned out PERFECTLY or even better than you'd dared hope. Or when someone did something kind and thoughtful for YOU, and that helped you hang on a little longer or was JUST the thing you needed. If you don't want to post publicly, feel free to email me at stilldoingmybest (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thanks, friends.
I thought of some fun surprises that I've blogged about!

Click on the "Crappy Day Presents" tab above, scroll down, and there are lots of posts about Crappy Day Packages I've been lucky enough to receive!

A lovely surprise from the internet

The creation of a fun surprise (this was SO! FUN!)
Such a sweet surprise

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Let Me Take Your Order

Sometimes, it's pretty cool to be living in the future. Like when your friend is having a crappy day, and you wish you could bring her a plate of freshly baked goodies, but you can't because she lives too far away, but then you remember that you live in the future and you have CHOICES!

2-topping medium pizza, stuffed cheesy bread, wings, oven-baked sandwich, pasta, or marbled cookie brownie for $5.99 each when you order 2 or more! (I also HIGHLY recommend the parmesan bread bites (scroll down)!) This is a nice variety of sweet and savory treats!

Maybe this is a chocolate emergency; there are chocolate lava crunch cakes! Or Hot Chocolate Brownie (not sure how long this one will be available), Triple Chocolate Brownie, Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie, or Chocolate Dunkers!

If Domino's or Pizza Hut don't deliver to your friend, maybe Papa John's does! Cinnamon Knots, Chocolate Chip Cookie, or Double Chocolate Chip Brownie! Mmmmm, those Garlic Knots, Garlic Parmesan Breadsticks, and Cheesesticks look very yummy as well!

I always figure that if I'm ALREADY ordering something, I might as well make it worth the delivery charge, and, with the places linked to above, it's very easy to add a pizza to your order too! But how do you know what someone likes on their pizza? Is there a universally accepted pizza topping? WHAT IF I ORDERED THE WRONG TOPPING AND RUINED IT FOR HER?! We need to collect some data in the comments.

Hmm, I think the pizza restaurants have us covered pretty well with a variety of delicious options, but Jimmy John's (mostly sandwiches, chips, raisin oatmeal cookie, chocolate chunk cookie) also delivers in some places.

If you aren't sure what is available in your friend's area, you can try GrubHub ("Order Food Delivery Online from Local Restaurants") or Seamless. If you aren't a pizza and baked goods person, what else is there would you like?

If someone wanted to send YOU yummy food to brighten your day, what could they send? Leave your answer in the comments, with a name so people know who you are, and feel free to email me to make sure I have your current address, in case anyone (that I know) should ask me =)! Bookmark this post so you can refer to it later if there's someone you want to send food to; if you're really lucky, she will have left a comment!

I'll go first, so nobody has to feel awkward about being the first to speak up. My VERY FAVORITE pizza is Pizza Hut's deep dish, Meat Lovers with black olives because that was the pizza I ate in the delivery room right after Jeffrey was born, and nothing has ever tasted so good in my entire life! For Domino's $5.99 special, I usually get ham and black olives. I also LOVE their parmesan bread bites, and their Cinna Stix with the frosting for dipping are the best I've tried, although I can't remember which other brand I tried that I didn't like as well, and it looks like Papa John's Cinnamon Knots might be good too. That Hot Chocolate Brownie (BROWNIE!! TOPPED WITH TOASTED MARSHMALLOWS!! AND DRIZZLED WITH CHOCOLATE SYRUP!!) looks like it might fix whatever ails you as long as you aren't allergic to sugar! I...really don't know what other food a person could order and send here because I don't order food for delivery very often. I know that some Chinese restaurants deliver, but I had a bad experience with fried rice some time ago that I still haven't gotten over, so that's out for me.

Your turn! What would you like, and are there any other delivery places I don't know about that we would find useful?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

TWENTY! 2! 0!

In honor of this being the *TWENTIETH!* CDP exch*nge (who would've thought it would go on so long?!), I thought I'd write a new registration post as a gift for us all ;-).

If this is your first time signing up, you haven't signed up in a while and need to be reminded, or this post doesn't have enough details for you, go here to read the usual post (just remember to use the dates on this post).

It seems like there ought to be something really fun we could do for this *TWENTIETH!* exch*nge (Everyone gets a cool, commemorative tee shirt! I give away 20 $20 gift cards! The first 20 registrations get a NEW CAR! Alas. The budget.) ....but nothing really came to mind that wouldn't just complicate things for the participants (well, one lovely person suggested: "...we all buy 20 cupcakes...and then eat them. Maybe we take pics? Maybe just eat a ton of cupcakes." This could be a delicious bonding experience for us all!), so here are some fun ideas people gave me that you can use if you'd like (not required!), or, if you think of something fun on your own, let me know so I can fully appreciate your genius!
 You could:
  • Send 20 of something (20 pieces of candy! 20 cookies! 20 pieces of gum!)
  • A project with 20 pieces
  • A glittery thing with 20 jewels
  • A thing that was popular when you, or the giftee, were 20
  • 20th anniversary edition of something
  • 20th wedding anniversary gift is china; you could send a mug or a teacup
  • A bottle of nail polish (20 nails in a mani-pedi)
If you want to register for this exch*nge, email me the usual information by 9:00p.m. Eastern Time, Friday, October 9th, and I will work on assignments as soon as I get up on Saturday! Please send your package no later than Saturday, November 14th!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Crappy Day P*ck*ge Exch*nge 2015, #3

For those who are new here, a p*ck*ge for this exch*nge usually consists of a box containing a few (or many) wrapped CDPs. If I'm sending out of state, it's very cost efficient to use a flat rate box, so I try to fill it up, and I think about what sorts of heavy things I could send that I wouldn't usually think to send. Treacle Fudge comes to mind. Or brownie mix. Or books (after all, the postage will be the same no matter what is inside =)!). If I'm sending IN state, I can send a giant box of my own and pay about the same amount of money using Standard Post instead of Priority. If you aren't sure what an appropriate amount of things to send is, click here and look through the different links of examples of Crappy Day Packages to get an idea.
Well, it's a little later than planned, but registration is OPEN for the third CDPExch*nge of 2015!
Please read all of the information below if it's been a couple, or more, exchanges since you last signed up and then be sure to email me by Saturday, August 15th if you want to join! Also, I will close registration once we reach 46 participants, so sign up soon!

Items of note:
  • Remember to go to the registry post (this is NOT the same information you send me for registration) and leave your answers in the comments (or email your answers to me, if you'd prefer). If you have previously left a comment answering the registry questions and your answers have changed, leave a new comment, and delete your old comment, or email me, and I will delete your old comment.
  • In order to help your person get to know you even better, either google "getting to know you questions" or go to one of these sites (which I found when I googled), copy the questions, and put your answers either in a blog post (or two or three...), or email the questions and answers to me, and I will forward them on to your person.
  • If you want to SEND a box (either to someone specific or someone random) anonymously (er, anonymously to THEM; *I* will still need some information from you to make sure that you are somebody *I* would be comfortable giving *my* personal information to if situations were reversed!) and not RECEIVE a box, email me, and I will be able to arrange that for you.
  • For the price range issue, we will continue to take the advice of a very wise Swistle who once said:
    • "As for price range, I think it's "whatever is still fun." If you start getting stressed about the cost, that = not fun. I think a prize (or, in this case, Crappy Day Package) can be something you go out and buy, or it can be half a batch of cookies, a couple of used paperbacks, and a bottle of moisturizer that wasn't right for you." Do your best! Make the kind of package you would like to receive, and try not to feel bad about having limited resources!
  • If you do not live in the USA and want to participate but are worried about postage, email me anyway; if there are others from your country/area who want to participate, I will match you up.
  • If you do a blog post about the box you receive, send me a link, and I'll add it to the Other Examples of CDP post.
  • If you want to be anonymous if your recipient does a blog post about the package you sent, let the recipient of your box know that!
If you would still like to participate after reading all of this, email me, by 9:00pm (Eastern Time) August 15th at: stilldoingmybest (at) gmail (dot) com.
  • In your email, copy, paste, and answer these questions (if you've signed up recently and none of your information has changed, just let me know what your sending and receiving preferences are):
    • If this is your first time signing up, how did you find out about this exchange? (Since I will be giving out personal information, I want to make sure I know you or someone I know knows you so we can keep this safe!)
    • What is your internet name, (real) name and address? (This information will only be used for CDP purposes!)
    • If you have social media accounts (blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc...), please list the pertinent information so I can pass it on to your person. (These can be a good source of inspiration for presents!)
    • Is there anything important about you that I should tell the person who gets your name? (Life-threatening allergies, need for anonymity, etc...)
    • Is there anyone you WANT to send a package to? (List people in order of preference, and I will see what I can do! If the person hasn't signed up, I will be happy to send her a no-pressure email, telling her she's been requested and inviting her to join!)
    • Is there anyone you DON'T want to send a package to? (For example, perhaps you've already sent a certain person a CDP outside of these exchanges and want somebody new to stalk get to know?)
    • Do you want to be assigned...
      • A person you already know? (I tend to guess about who knows who based on blog and Twitter comments, but feel free to enlighten me if you do have a preference =)!)
      • Someone you don't know?
      • No preference?
    • Do you want me to assign your name to...
      • Someone you already know?
      • Someone you don't know?
      • No preference?
    • Is there anyone who has joined the registry that you do NOT want to have your address?
    • Are you willing to send a package to Canada or the United Kingdom (It appears to cost around $45 to send a flat-rate package to either of these places from the USA, unless you can keep your package under 4 pounds, and then it's more in the $20 (Canada)-$30 (UK) range.)?
  • If you have any questions for your person, and you are aiming for the element of surprise and don't want to email your person directly, email me your question(s) and the name of your person, and I will take care of that for you =).
I will send an email to you as soon as I can after August 15th with the information for your person.
Please send your package no later than September 15th.
I think that's everything important, but let me know if you still have questions that I haven't answered and I will edit this post with your questions and the answers.
What Are Crappy Day Presents
The Rules for the Opening of Crappy Day Presents
Crappy-Day-Present-Receiving Etiquette
The Master List for the Exch*nges
Ideas for Crappy Day Presents

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ice Cream Report

Months ago A while back, a Lovely Person sent me a gift card to the wonderful, local ice cream place, so I felt it was my DUTY to try a variety of flavors and report! Most of these flavors are from Graeter's, but I discovered other delicious brands and flavors in the time I've been working on this post, so I included those too.

A couple nice things about the chocolate "chips" in Graeter's ice cream:
1. They are varying sizes and often large.
2. The chocolate melts in your mouth instead of sticking to your teeth!

NOTE: I *STRONGLY SUGGEST* that you have a delicious pint of ice cream in your freezer before you read this post.

Because I was too busy enjoying the deliciousness Somehow, I didn't take any pictures of the ice cream that turned out to be my favorite in this report. BROWNIE MOOSE TRACKS!!! Vanilla ice cream with the WONDERFUL fudge ripple throughout and lots of pieces of CHEWY brownies! Moose Tracks ice cream is sold under a variety of store brands, so check your local grocery store for their many yummy flavors. Unfortunately, my local grocery store's brand doesn't make the brownie flavor, although it does have 3 or 4 of the other Moose Tracks flavors, but the store carries a brand called Dean's that has it!

Some of the contenders

Graeter's Toffee Chocolate Chip
*Vanilla ice cream with pieces of toffee and chocolate chips
*Toffee is PERFECT: easy to crunch and doesn't stick to my teeth
*Milk chocolate chips

Graeter's Coconut Chocolate Chip
*This is what I usually choose because they only have my ABSOLUTE favorite, Mint Cookies and Cream, for ONE MONTH OF THE YEAR *sob*
*Sweet, creamy ice cream; not sure if it's vanilla or coconut flavored
*Lots of coconut flakes
*Semi-sweet chocolate "chips"
*I imagine a Mounds Bar turned into ice cream would taste like this

Ben and Jerry's Scotchy Scotch Scotch
*Butterscotch flavored ice cream with a slightly crunchy butterscotch ripple throughout
* SIXTEEN grams of protein in one container! I don't remember other flavors having that much; I guess I'll need to buy them again and check more carefully! (After checking: The other flavors have that much protein too.)
*Ian is quite sad that this is a limited edition flavor

Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Peppermint Crunch
*First bite tastes like a nice, cold peppermint patty
*Chocolate ice cream with a thin mint ribbon (a thicker mint ribbon would be nice); the description says there are fudge swirls, but I didn't notice those very much
*The "Crunch" is mint chocolate cookie balls that taste like Th!n M!nts or Grasshopper cookies!

Graeter's Cookies & Cream
*Nice cream flavor
*Very light on the cookies: 2 good size chunks, a few smaller pieces

Graeter's Butter Pecan
*Nice buttery flavor in the ice cream
*Nice amount of pecans throughout

Graeter's Salted Caramel
*Very nice caramel flavor with just enough of the salt to keep it from being to sweet
*Smooth ice cream; no chunks of anything

Graeter's Buckeye Blitz
*Chocolate and peanut butter flavored ice cream
*Dark chocolate "chips"
*Little pieces of peanut butter cookie dough (bigger pieces of cookie dough would be better!)

Graeter's Strawberry Chocolate Chip
*Varying sizes of melt-in-your-mouth (instead of stick-in-your-teeth) semi-sweet chocolate "chips"
*Natural strawberry flavored ice cream, no food coloring, smallish pieces of strawberry
*Somewhat sweet, but sweetness is balanced by the semi-sweet chocolate

There were some SERIOUS chocolate chunks in this one!

I hit the jackpot!

Piece of strawberry

Friday, August 8, 2014

PSA: Comparing Photo Books From Shutterfly and Blurb (Edited at the end)

I recently ordered 2 photo books from Blurb after having used Shutterfly for years. I wasn't sure how the finished products would compare, but now I know, so I'm writing this post to help me remember and to help anyone else who is wondering.

I make photo books for 2 different things: 1) Photo books that *I* will keep once the children move away, that tell the story of our entire family, and 2) Photo books for each child, containing mostly pictures of that child, which the child will take with him/her when he/she leaves the house.

I've been using Shutterfly for....well, since we got a digital for 12? 13? years. I was hesitant to move to a different site because so many years of my pictures are stored there and it's always such a hassle to upload lots of pictures. But, inevitably, when I would have 5 or 10 or 18 minutes here and there to work on photo books, I would have problems uploading my pictures or getting my project to load because of some issue with the site. Also, Shutterfly continues to add to their layouts and other options, so one of the books I was working on became obsolete, I had a hard time learning the new system, and there are now SO MANY options for backgrounds, layouts, and embellishments ("stickers"/decorations) that I became paralyzed with indecision. (But mostly it was the rage from the loading problems that did me in.)

A Lovely Person recommended Blurb to me, so I looked into that site. One thing I liked about Blurb right away was their program, BookSmart, that can be downloaded onto your computer, allowing you to work on your photo book offline. Another thing I liked was that the kind of photo book I was interested in could have 240 or 440 pages, depending on the kind of paper I picked. I was a little sad that there weren't any embellishments offered, but they had a variety of customizable photo layouts,  85 patterned backgrounds (whose colors can be changed to pretty much any color there is) and any color of solid background you could possibly want. Lack of embellishments, although a little sad, simplified the process for me and saved me A LOT of time.

Now for the detailed comparisons!

Kinds of paper
Shutterfly offers one kind of paper.
Blurb offers Standard Paper, Premium Paper Lustre or Matte, Proline Uncoated, or Proline Pearl Photo.

*I wasn't sure which of Blurb's papers would compare to Shutterfly's. If I used Standard Paper, I could get up to 440 pages in a book, but if I used Premium, I could only get 240. Since I am expending so much time, energy, and money on these books, and I want them to last FOREVER a long time, I decided to try Premium Paper Matte for my photo book and Premium Paper Lustre for Jeffrey's, so that I could see what the difference was between the two, and so I could compare the Premium papers to Shutterfly's standard paper.

Results: Shutterfly's standard paper is equivalent to Blurb's Premium Lustre Paper. It's a nice thickness with a little bit of shine. I think I will use the Premium Matte Paper from now on because I prefer to not have a glare on the pictures.

Types of Covers
Shutterfly offers leather, silk, linen, cloth, padded, hard matte covers for their premium or upgrade options, and hard or soft covers (with pictures and/or text printed on) for their standard option.
*Jeffrey's first photo book has a standard hard cover; the cover has a shiny finish (which is easy to wipe off if it gets fingerprints or something sticky on it).

Blurb offers a softcover, hard cover with a dust jacket, or hard cover with ImageWrap (meaning, no dust jacket and pictures/text printed on the front and/or back of the cover).
*The Family book and Jeffrey's second photo book have a hard cover with ImageWrap; the cover has a matte finish (which does not seem to wipe off quite as easily).

Shutterfly offers books in sizes: 8x8, 8x11, 10x10, 12x12, or 11x14.
*Jeffrey's first book is 8x11.

Blurb offers books in sizes: 7x7, 7.75x9.75, 10x8, 13x11, or 12x12.
*The Family book and Jeffrey's second photo book are 13x11.

13x11 book on the left, 8x11 book on the right

The top book contains 101 pages (and has been well-loved).
The middle book contains 112 pages.
The bottom book contains 182 pages.
I am terrible at visualizing what size something will actually be, so I was pleasantly surprised today when the 13x11 books came and I saw the size of the pictures. For some things, like birthdays, where there are 40 pictures of the same event, I like to use the 9- or 16-picture layouts to keep a lot of the pictures but not use up a lot of pages with them. I always worry the pictures will turn out to be too small, especially with the 16-picture layout, but they were perfect!

Design Options
Shutterfly offers 2 book-making options: Custom Path (1-25 pictures per page, you design the book yourself, including backgrounds, text and fonts, and embellishments) or Simple Path (1-4 pictures per page, the computer organizes your pictures onto pages according to the dates and you can go through an adjust some things). In Custom Path, there are LOTS OF OPTIONS. LOTS. OF. OPTIONS. Backgrounds, page colors, embellishments, fonts, picture layouts, and now you can "customize" the picture layouts, which means you can change the size of the picture box, add or delete text boxes, and move things around on the page.

Blurb's BookSmart offers 85 patterned backgrounds with colors that can be changed, all sorts of solid colors for backgrounds, a variety of picture layouts (and the option to save layouts that you've designed), the option to "edit" the layout by changing the size of the picture boxes, adding or deleting picture and text boxes, and moving all of those things around on the page, and a variety of fonts.

Verdict: If you love designing things, having LOTS OF OPTIONS, and scrap booking, Shutterfly is what you want. If too many options make you feel overwhelmed and unable to make a decision, and what you want is a basic photo album with pictures and some text talking about the pictures, you want Blurb's BookSmart.

Note: Blurb has other book designing options, besides BookSmart, but I haven't used those.

Uploading Things
For Shutterfly, you add pictures to your book from your computer, your Shutterfly account, your Facebook, or your Instagram. You have to be online while you do this. I have had problems with uploading taking A LONG TIME. Once your pictures FINALLY load After you have your pictures, you make your photo book online, at the Shutterfly website. I have also had problems with this site refusing to load or loading very slowly. When your book is finished, you order it from the website, which is pretty quick if the program isn't running slowly/refusing to work that day.

For Blurb, you add pictures to your book from your computer, Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa, or Smugmug. I only got pictures from my computer, which was fast, and did not require me to be online. I never had any problems using BookSmart to work on my pages; the program never froze or worked slowly. When I was ready to order my book, I uploaded it to the website, which took over an hour (it was a VERY large file), but I was expecting that, wasn't in a hurry, was able to do other things online at the same time, AND it never froze and had to be restarted, so that didn't bother me.

Shutterfly: Jeffrey's 8x11 book, without sales, would cost $39.99 for the first 20 pages, plus $1 per page for additional pages. His book has 101 pages (ultrasound pictures to 18 months old). I can't find the information on their site after 5+ minutes of looking, but I think 101 was the maximum number of pages I could get at the time; that may have changed.
Total for this book, with no coupon codes would have been $120.99+shipping (which, AGAIN, I have looked and looked for on their site and cannot find, but it ends up being a moot point because they usually have a coupon code that gives you free shipping).
From Blurb, as similar sized book would have cost $61.01+shipping.

Blurb: The Large Landscape (13"x11"), Hardcover ImageWrap would cost $60.81 for the first 20 pages, plus $0.50 per page for additional pages. The Family book has 182 pages (January 2011 to the end of July 2013).
Total for this book, with no coupon codes would have been $141.81+shipping.
From Shutterfly, the similarly sized 11x14 book would have cost $312.99+shipping.

*The price of the basic 20-page book is the reason I put so many pages in my books; most of the cost is the initial book, so it's cheaper for me to make fewer books with more pages than to make more books with fewer pages. But if you're making a smaller-sized book for grandparents or for one event (for example: a certain family vacation or family event) then this is irrelevant.

Coupon Codes
*Shutterfly's shipping price depends on the amount of money you are spending, but they often have a free shipping if you spend $30+ code. They usually have a 30% off photo books coupon, often have a 40% off coupon, and sometimes offer a 50% off coupon; the coupons sometimes specify a certain size of book. Also, I am signed up for Shutterfly's emails, and will receive a "free 20 page photo book" coupon a couple times per year, so you could sign up for emails and try making the free book to see how you like their system.

*Blurb: I have only been signed up with them for about 2 months. A couple weeks before that 2 months was up, I received emails from them offering 20% off if I spent one amount or less, or 30% off if I spent more than that before it had been 60 days since I signed up with them. I've also seen 15% and 25% off codes from them. I have not yet seen any free shipping codes.

Final Thoughts
For me, the biggest downsides to Blurb were that I would like a few more decorative options, and I would REALLY like to be able to copy an entire page layout and paste it into another book project, but that isn't possible at this time. (The Shutterfly site isn't cooperating with me again tonight, but, from what I can tell/remember, I can't copy pages there either.) Everything else was a positive for me: ease of use of the website and program, price, and quality.

I was happy with Shutterfly's quality, and I enjoyed the decorative options before there were so many, but my frustration with their site is a HUGE downside.

Also, there are MANY places out there that make photo books, so GOOD LUCK choosing one!

*Edited: I forgot! Blurb sent a card in my book package with a code for 15% off any order until August 31, 2014. The code is: SUMMERSAVINGS.