On-the-Air: San Antonio

Early Monday morning of last week, I headed out for the second half of my holiday TV tour.

One of my first stops was San Antonio, where I always have a great time at the "San Antonio Living" show with fabulous co-host Shelly Miles!  If the festive holiday music in the background of this segment doesn't get you into the holiday spirit, I'm not sure what will.

You can take a look at the full segment below!  But first, fasten your seatbelts - we cover a lot of territory in five minutes here.  

Our Family Christmas Present

Not long after Scott and I got married, his family decided that the grown-ups would start exchanging homemade Christmas gifts.  The girls would make gifts for each other, and the guys would as well.  No shopping, no pressure, no stress.

Sounds like a great idea, right?  Except that my crafting skills peaked at the age of eight, making spray-painted Christmas trees out of old Readers' Digests in Vacation Bible School (Remember these? Well, my mom thought mine was pretty).

Oh, and my mother-in-law is one of the most creative, craftsy people on the planet; my sister-in-law Holly writes the DIY blog McCall Manor and can turn furniture roadkill into works of art; and my sister-in-law Karen turns out holiday ornaments and other creative projects for which I wouldn't even know where to begin.

Me?  I can make cookies, so that was to be my fallback - and would certainly make me popular with our nieces and nephews. 

Thanksgiving approached and I still didn't have any brilliant ideas.  But scrolling through Facebook one afternoon, I realized I couldn't make ornaments or decorative pillows - but I could make a photo book! So, I scoured our family's Facebook pages, tossed together a photo book on Shutterfly (I frequently do TV segments on their behalf) - and dubbed it the "Sewell Family Yearbook."

Voila!  Everyone loved it - although I did still bake dozens of Christmas cookies and carry them with us to Tennessee…just in case.

The first book was a small softcover book with 70 photos.  The project has since taken on a life of its own, evolving into an 8 x 11 hardcover book the following year and growing in size and scope each year.  The book now regularly tops 100 pages with 300 to 400 photos.

Photobook.jpg

I actually start working on each year's book right after Christmas, and then gather photos from family throughout the year.  If they don’t send them, I scour Facebook and Instagram for photos that other people post of them.  Shutterfly makes it easy to create the book; while I prefer to design my own, they also have easy templates to follow (and an easy-to-use mobile app).  Once we have the photos together, we finalize the book, order six copies - and our holiday shopping is done!

Photobook

The best part of this process?  Sitting around the table at Christmas, paging through the books and sharing memories of the last year…all while nibbling on those cookies that I still bake and carry home with us every Christmas.

Holiday Gift Guide: Tech & Personalized Gifts

Today, the final installment of my holiday gift guide.  Yesterday, I shared some clothing and home decor picks, while Monday's guide looked at flowers, food and wine.  Today, we wrap up with a few tech and personalized gifts I am sharing for several companies on my holiday TV tour.

Tech

If you're in the market for a new laptop computer (for yourself or as a gift), Office Depot and Office Max stores have this Dell Inspiron 11 3000 series laptop for less than $250. 

As a frequent traveler, I love the lightness of this, and the bright cobalt blue make it easy to find in my bag as well.  It even includes a year of Microsoft Office 365 Personal. (Photos courtesy of Office Depot).

Keep your home secure with Nest's suite of home protection products from Bed Bath & Beyond (pictured from left to right):  Nest Protect Second Generation Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarm; Nest Cam Security Camera; Nest Learning Third Generation Thermostat. (Photos courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond).

For gamers, the Playstation VR is one of the hottest gifts of the season.  GameStop can hook you up with this or other games and consoles. (Photo courtesy of GameStop).

Personalized Gifts

Want to guarantee someone will not return a gift?  Put their name on it - or better yet, their pictures!

Put Me In The Story will customize children's story books and coloring books for you.  Choose from best-selling book titles and favorite characters, and they will actually weave your child's name and photo into the story. (Photos courtesy of Put Me In The Story).

Finally, the gift that Scott and I give to his parents and siblings each year:  a photo book from Shutterfly.  Seven years ago, we started gathering family photos from throughout the year and organizing them into a "family yearbook."  This started as a fairly small project, but the "Sewell Family Yearbook" has since grown into an annual book of about 100 pages packed with hundreds of photos!  We prepare one book, order six copies - and our shopping is done.  The best part?  Sitting around on Christmas Eve with family, going through the book and sharing memories from the last year.

Happy shopping!

Getting Personal

If you’re trying to come up with a gift that won’t get returned, why not personalize your holiday gifts?  Here are a few ideas I am sharing for several companies on my holiday TV tour.  (The final one is the gift my husband and I give to everyone in his family!).

  • To frame a special photo or piece of art, Art.com does custom framing by mail for a fraction of what it costs in a framing shop.  To use their new service called Frame Your Art, first browse their large selection of frame styles and mats.  You can even upload a photo to see exactly how your art will look in the frame you choose!  They will then send you pre-paid packaging, which you use to ship in your art.  I love this idea, because you can frame photos, prints, diplomas, children’s art projects or any other art you want to display.  Prices range from $59 to $189, depending on frame style and size – and you get free shipping both ways!  Just make sure to send your art back by December 11 to get everything in time for the holidays.
  • Rag dolls are a classic Christmas gift, and I love the Christmas Rag Dolls from Personal Creations.  Not only can you have them personalized with a name, but you can give a doll that looks just like her!  Choose from Hispanic, African-American or Caucasian dolls, and the Caucasian dolls have either blonde, brunette or red hair.
  • Wine lovers will enjoy a bottle of Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay customized especially for them.  Buy the wine locally, and then create a free custom label on their web site that is designed especially to fit the Josh Cellars bottle.  Order by December 13 to receive it in time for Christmas.
  • Photo books are special gifts that will be appreciated for years.  Each Christmas, we “surprise” my husband’s family with what is known as the Sewell Family Yearbook, a photo book featuring hundreds of family photos from the previous 12 months.  Throughout the year, I collect pictures from family, and organize them into a photo book on Shutterfly.  It’s a great way to get pictures out of the computer and out where people can actually enjoy them.  The best part?  Sitting around the tree at Christmas, paging through the books and sharing memories of the last year. 

 

* Photos courtesy of Personal Creations, Art.com, Josh Cellars, and Shutterfly.

Creative, Affordable Gift Ideas

Gadgets and expensive electronics grab the headlines, but you can find fun and creative holiday gifts that are also affordable.  Here are a few ideas I shared on behalf of Bed Bath and Beyond, The Vermont Country Store, Stella & Max, AHeirloomOmaha Steaks, Blue Nile, Personal Creations, Skechers and Shutterfly on several TV segments. 

Mastrad Mini Macaron Kit from Bed Bath and Beyond

Hai Karate Aftershave and Flannel Sleepwear from The Vermont Country Store

Clutches, Wristlets and Crossbody Bags from Stella & Max

Garnet Halo Stud Earrings and Swiss Blue Topaz and White Sapphire Ring from Blue Nile

Customized State Cutting Boards from AHeirloom

The Tasteful Gift from Omaha Steaks

Personalized Stockings from Personal Creations

Kids' Light-Up Shoes from Skechers

"Family Yearbook" Photo Book from Shutterfly

 

* Photos courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond, The Vermont Country Store, and AHeirloom.