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Last night, a group of friends and I had a quiet and intimate dinner party and gift exchange before we all left town for the holidays. We made homemade Chinese dumplings, sipped cold sake and listened to our favorite records.
My favorite part about our little gathering was our “White Album White Elephant” gift exchange – a fun, creative spin on the traditional white elephant and I hope we make it an annual holiday tradition. Each guest was asked to bring one of their favorite albums, wrap it in white paper and write a lyric from one of the songs on the back of the package. Each person would choose two blank packages, silently read the lyrics on the back of each album and select the one they wanted to keep based on the lyrics. Then the guest would read the lyrics of their selection out loud so subsequent players could potentially steal their CD, but only based on the lyrics. This was such a unique way to share our favorite music and appreciate beautiful lyrics from our favorite artists.
Once we all settled on our decisions, we each opened our package one by one. The results were shocking – to the surprise of many, some of the most poignant and profound lyrics came from Metallica and Lupe Fiasco. To my personal surprise, I owned four of the resulting CDs, but only recognized lyrics from two of the bands. A lot of guests also shared why they chose the album they did and how they discovered their artist – what a great way to discover new music!
My contribution was Metric’s new album, Synthetica. It’s probably my favorite album of the year and I hope the person who chose it loves it as much as I do. All of the songs are terrific, but my favorite track is “Clone” which is where the poetic lyrics I wrote on my parcel were derived from. Listen to that and their main single “Breathing Underwater” below. What are your favorite albums from this year?
Metric – Breathing Underwater

Metric – Clone

Advertisements
2012 was a big year for PR and advertising. With the Presidential Election and the 2012 Olympics, I can’t imagine the exorbitant sums of money spent on this year’s marketing campaigns. I decided to round up some of my favorite commercials from this year. I chose these based on a mix of criteria – the innovation and creativity involved, overall look and feel, and most importantly, what emotions were invoked.
A lot of these will probably look familiar to you. I don’t watch a lot of regular programming, and when I do it’s normally a DVR’d show that I fast-forward through. However, I do tend to absorb a lot of ads when I watch sports games or news segments that occur in real-time. So here goes:
My favorite commercials of 2012:
Funniest: Guinness – Round Up Your Mates for St. Patrick’s Day
I discovered this gem on FastCompany’s list of the 15 Best of Ads of 2012, and I loved it! I don’t think this was a US-based ad, but it’s so clever, cute and light-hearted.
Best Sports: Tie between Adidas Is All In and Nike FuelBand Presents: Counts
Nike and Adidas are arguably the two most popular sports brands out there and I’ve always been impressed by both of their products and their marketing strategies. Both of the commercials below evoke a palpable “cool” factor and what I love about both of these campaigns is how they incorporate a multitude of people and activities that don’t necessarily involve sports, but demonstrate athleticism and high energy. Adidas compiled a super rad music video timed to Justice’s hard-hitting “Civilization” featuring everyone from David Beckham to Katy Perry. Nike simply captured memorable iconic moments like OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again” music video and scenes from our favorite films.
Favorite Olympics: Proctor & Gamble: The Best Job and AT&T’s The New Possible
Ads during the Olympics are such a treat; it’s like watching the best ads of the Superbowl, but on a worldwide scale that lasts a few weeks. I love both of these ads for different reasons – the innovation behind AT&T’s “The New Possible” campaign was super impressive. Incorporating real, record-breaking Olympic results seamlessly into the ads was such a smart way to showcase AT&T and celebrate big Olympic wins in the U.S. Check out how they did it on FastCompany. On the flip side, the P&G “The Best Job” ad is one of the most touching commercials of the year. I love how it includes different sports and different cultures, but portrays how universal a mother’s love and dedication is. Though no products were prominently shown in the commercial, it still beautifully represented P&G and its family of brands.


Best Competitive Edge: Samsung – The Next Big Thing is Already Here

Samsung took a huge risk by choosing to capitalize on the hype and buzz surrounding the new iPhone 5. Rather than sitting back and letting the new Apple launch dominate headlines, Samsung proactively inserted itself into the conversation and made a bold, splashy statement. It’s not a secret that Apple users are uncharacteristically loyal, and Samsung not only made some question the supposed “greatness” of the new phone, but also made Apple fans look ridiculous for waiting in line for something competitors already make. I am a reasonably satisfied iPhone user, but I haven’t been blown away by any of the company’s recent launches. Samsung won’t ever convert the diehard Apple fans, but they are successfully targeting people like me who like their iPhones, but don’t think they’re light years greater than other alternatives.

Best Message: Expedia Find Yours

Expedia also chose to make a bold statement, but in a different, much more meaningful way. Documenting the story of a dad’s emotional and deeply personal journey to find his understanding regarding his daughter’s same-sex marriage, the message was poignant, sweet and incredibly moving. I’m glad companies like Expedia and Oreo are openly endorsing same-sex marriage and I consider this commercial a huge win in the fight for same-sex marriage and equal rights. Not too long after that ad ran, Expedia created a “Find Your Strength” commercial sharing the heartbreaking story of a young cancer patient who found strength in her best friend who she met at St. Jude’s. This one’s a tearjerker, but an uplifting, inspirational one. In response, Expedia is matching donations to St. Jude’s on its website.

It’s 3:38 on Friday afternoon. On a typical Friday afternoon around this time, I’d be ecstatic. I’d be celebrating the conclusion of yet another work week and the fast-approaching, much-needed weekend. But today’s a different day. Today is one of the most devastating Friday afternoons I can remember and I hope our country never has to deal with a tragedy like this ever again.

The shooting in Connecticut might be the worst national news I’ve read in 2012. The poor victims and their families are in my thoughts, as well as the fortunate young survivors. As Obama so eloquently put it, “For as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain.”

This news certainly puts a damper on the holiday season that is centered around joyous, innocent children and spending time with your families and loved ones. I know I’m going to hug my nephews and niece extra tight when I see them next week. I’m so thankful that they’re in my life and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to cause them any harm or sorrow.

I’m not trying to be political with this post. That’s not at all my intention. But I hope this tragedy causes our country to truly reevaluate its position gun control. I have been on the fence about the issue for a long time, supporting the right to protect and defend yourself, but in this year alone, Trayvon Martin, a theater in Colorado and now at least 20 little kids lost their lives at the expense of the irresponsible use of arms. I don’t have all the answers, and the government doesn’t either. There’s no easy solution to the problem, but I think we can all agree that this is a sad day in America. I think we can agree these children were taken too soon and unfairly, and there’s a pressing need for preventative measures to avoid anything like this happening ever again.

At some point last year, a friend asked me “How many concerts do you think you go to in a year?” and I honestly couldn’t give a fair estimation. It really got me thinking – “How much money do I spend on live music in a year?” “How many bands did I see?” “Did I see any bands multiple times?” “If so, how many?” To provide some insight, I literally kept a Google Doc spreadsheet listing every show I went to this year and updated it regularly throughout the course of the year. Upon auditing my year to date, even I was surprised with my results. I attended a grand total of 48 shows/events and saw a whopping 107 bands/artists. That doesn’t even include the bands I watched more than once. Numbers like that make me really grateful that I live in Austin (where all but one 3-day event) took place.

I decided to make an infographic visualizing my year in live music. A screen grab is pasted below, click-through to see the full visual!

Key findings include:

  • Genre = Electronic and dance music comprised the majority of concerts I attended. Indie shows were a close second.
  • March and October were my busiest live music months, which is to be expected since SXSW and ACL take place during those time periods
  • Danny Brown and A-Trak are tied for artist I saw the most – each with 3 separate performances in 3 separate venues

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At this very moment in the time and space continuum, I’m sitting at my cubicle on this dreary Tuesday afternoon, patiently waiting for the minutes to tick by before I can go home, and I just came to the realization that Christmas is exactly two weeks away. Two damn weeks!

 I still have a lot of gifts to buy and errands to run, and to my supreme inconvenience, my roommate and I have to move out of our beloved apartment this weekend. Rather than spending our last weekend in the current place packing and cleaning like sane, practical people, we decided to host one last gathering with our closest friends to celebrate all of the memories and good times we’ve had while we’ve lived in our charming little abode. Our official theme was originally ‘We Are Never Ever Ever Wearing Sweaters,” guests were welcome to interpret how they wished, but highly encouraged to emulate Taylor Swift’s music video filled with animal bodysuits, pajamas and joy.
It was a good last hurrah, especially before the holidays. To my pleasant surprise, almost everyone dressed festively. Reminds me of how lucky I am to have such fun and free-spirited friends. On Sunday morning, I woke up to a record high of three air mattresses and six hungover guests in our living room. I’d consider that a success, wouldn’t you?

I’m definitely sad that we’re leaving our place, but unknown to some, my roommate and I have spent a good chunk of our past living as road warriors, relocating from state to state, hotel to hotel – we were technically homeless for a year. To top off a fantastic last weekend at our apartment, a frank old friend paid us a welcome visit – the ghost of Christmas past, if you will.

I hope you’re all getting into the Christmas spirit – I certainly enjoy seeing festively decorated homes, receiving Christmas cards and buying gifts. Since it is the season of giving, I thought I’d generously share some of my favorite holiday ideas and finds.

DECORATE!

DIY Magnetic Advent Calendar via Twig & Thistle

DIY Magnetic Advent Calendar
I love this idea for a clean, simple magnetic advent calendar. These tiny pots can conveniently adorn your fridge and you won’t have to fuss with nailing anything to your walls. Fill with candy or any other little knick-knacks, also easy to store and reuse for next year.

DIY Snow Globes via Martha Stewart

DIY Snow Globes
Snow globes are typically cheap and tacky, but these clean, minimalist ones are much cuter. Plus the different sizes and shapes of the jars adds height and dimension. If you want to be really creative, build a Lego landscape or use miniature action figurines. Who says snow globes have to be holiday themed? (Unoriginal people)

Ornament centerpieces via Budget Wise Home

Ornament Centerpieces
This is one of my favorite inexpensive Christmas decor ideas. The results are sleek and sophisticated and even the laziest and most creatively-challenged people could successfully pull off this project. I’d recommend only using round, spherical ornaments, so they stack nicely but I recommend experimenting with the texture, color and the shape of your glassware.

WRAP!

Printable Gift Wrap

Printable wrapping paper via Minieco.co.uk

I love all of the iconic and poppy designs from Minieco.co.uk. Plus, these are printable designs so you will never run out (theoretically)! You can embellish with high contrast gift tags and ribbons or print on neon or colored paper. A lot of these designs could certainly be used for other gift-giving occasions as well.

Alternative wrapping paper

I’m guilty of buying new rolls of wrapping paper for every holiday, birthday, shower or gift-giving occasion and I’m ultimately left with a huge amount of excess that would ultimately take years to use up. I’m not going to stop buying wrapping paper, but I will be more strategic about the colors and designs I choose. Moving forward, I will probably opt for solids or universal prints like polka dots and stripes rather than paper with imagery associated with holidays or special occasions.

Map wrapping paper via Martha Stewart

I love the idea of using alternative materials for wrapping your gifts; not only is this sustainable, it’s creative and unique. With smartphones and the Internet, I doubt anyone uses antiquated maps or atlases anymore. If you want to be extra thoughtful, use a map of a meaningful location such as the honeymoon destination for a wedding couple or the hometown of one of your friends. Other alternative papers include pages from books, music or old calendars.

Trader Joe’s paper bag wrapping paper via Shannon Eileen

Brown paper package with twine and vintage photograph

Brown paper packages with doily label

Brown paper packaging with doily label via Robbie & Erin

Brown paper is also one of my favorite wrapping materials; whether you buy a roll or reuse one of your paper grocery bags (like the Trader Joe’s example above), brown paper looks simple and classic and you can use for any gift giving occasion. You also have a huge range of accessories to decorate with! You could stamp patterns, write or directly on the packages or dress up with ribbon or yarn.

WRITE!

I love receiving Christmas cards; it’s a friendly reminder that your relatives and peers are thinking about you during this busy time. I’m personally not a big fan of the Walgreen’s family photo glossy prints and opt for simplified and minimalist designs.

Tacky Christmas Sweater Letterpress Christmas Card via Etsy

Mistletoe Letterpress Christmas Card via Etsy

Mustache Christmas Card via Etsy

I love wrapping gifts; it’s one of my favorite holiday activities. For whatever reason, I find the whole process oddly soothing and therapeutic. Crowded shopping malls, parking lots and screaming children tend to overwhelm me during the holidays, so coming home, turning on a movie and pouring a glass of wine while meticulously packaging and decorating my purchases is my way of unwinding and exercising the right side of my brain. I realize my love of gift wrapping is terribly inconsequential considering my beautiful creations will ultimately be destroyed and disposed of, but I don’t seem to mind.

Today, i devised a DIY holiday project that’s easy, versatile and relatively cheap. Plus, your newfound creative prowess will impress your gift recipients. Look below for instructions on how to make some handy dandy gift tags:

STEP 1: GATHER SUPPLIES!

Xmas Craft 1

For this particular project, you will need:

  • Alphabet stamps
  • Holiday stamps
  • Ink pads in pigments of your choice
  • White or manila card stock
  • A hole-punch
  • Decorative ribbon
  • Wine (optional)

Tip: You can buy most of this stuff at your local craft store. These holiday stamps often come in packs of 4 or 5, so you don’t need to buy individual images unless you want to; these stores also have sales on seasonal stuff all time. Also, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby always have coupons, and not shitty “spend $75 and save 10% coupons“, but awesome “take 50-60% off of any item in the store” coupons, so look up their weekly ads online and print them. Michael’s even accepts coupons you download on your smartphone. If you want to save a few bucks, you can always get the card stock and ribbon from Walmart, Target or an office supply store. If you want to be really stingy, steal the hole-punch from your office like I did…

STEP 2: STAMP!

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Xmas Craft 6

Xmas Craft 9

Neatly stamp your card stock. You can be as minimalist or as enthusiastic as you please, but keep whatever wrapping paper you plan on using in mind because the gift tags should match and compliment the end product. Don’t worry if your letters aren’t perfectly aligned. I think the words look cuter and more whimsical when they’re a little crooked anyway.

Tip: Make sure you thoroughly clean the stamp rubber if you plan on changing ink colors to avoid ruining your ink pads. I use a  wet paper towel and blot with a dry one. Then I stamp out any remaining ink on a scrap piece of paper to ensure it’s fresh and clean for the next use.

STEP 3: AFFIX TO YOUR PRESENTS!

Xmas Craft 7

Xmas Craft 10Xmas Craft 2

Xmas Craft 11

Crop and finish your gift tags as you see fit. I like to accessorize with simple accent ribbons.

ADDITIONAL IDEAS
The best part about crafting is the versatility you get from using the same materials. You can make a variety of other holiday-themed paper products based on your own family’s respective traditions. Some ideas include:

  • Stationary
  • Christmas cards
  • Wish lists or Letters to Santa
  • Holiday menus
  • Holiday party invitations
  • Christmas dinner place cards

Here are some of my other creations:

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-BZb0_byfulM/ULwcX6WVuwI/AAAAAAAACLU/FTZEyPJqyZs/s537/2012-12-02

Xmas Craft 4