Category Archives: Simple Life

Tips for Taking Better Holiday Photographs

One of my favourite holiday activities is pulling out the camera and aggravating friends and family, while taking a lot of bad photographs. This is one season when I really appreciate digital cameras. I take hundreds of pictures and with any luck, a couple of them turn out okay. Unfortunately, the good ones are pictures of the dog’s rump.

With a little planning and thought, it is easy to improve the quality of holiday photographs. Here are a few tips that can help:

These tips are aimed at point-and-shoot, entry-level cameras, or even a smartphone. However, if you have a more advanced camera some of these tips can apply, as well.

Indoor Photos:

  • When shooting indoors, experiment with turning your camera’s flash on and off for different results.
  • When taking pictures around the tree, turn off your flash to capture the twinkling lights. Use a tripod or support and the camera’s timer, to compensate for a slower shutter speed.
  • Avoid placing your subjects directly in front of a window as it causes excessive back-lighting.

Outdoor Photos:

  • Take photos before noon and after 4pm when the sun is not at its strongest.
  • Use your in-camera flash in daylight to counteract harsh lighting.
  • You can avoid shadows under the eyes and nose by using your flash during strong sunlight, neutralizing the light and balancing the exposure.
  • Take advantage of your camera’s scene modes, especially if it offers a setting for Beach and/or Snow.


  • When taking portraits, get as close as you can, physically or with your camera’s optical zoom lens.
  • To avoid red-eye, have your subject look directly at the nearest light source right before they look at the camera.

8 Tips for Keeping it Simple at Christmas

Every year, Friends got a lot of mileage out of holiday angst in their Thanksgiving episodes.

There’s an expectation that major holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends. And that’s not a bad thing. However, bringing together a group of people with a range of ideas and expectations as to how the holiday should be celebrated can lead to stress, discontent, and a less-than-stellar time of celebration.

A little planning will go a long way to minimize the relationship friction which can occur.

Here are eight tips to help keep things simple at Christmas.

  1. Find out the expectations up front. When you start planning who is going to be visiting at Christmas, find out what their expectations are.
  2. Coordinate everyone’s expectations. Create a master list. Figure out which expectations are similar; which are different; which can be done individually; and which are group activities.
  3. Decide what you are going to do. Create a schedule. You’re not going to be able to meet every expectation of every person. There’s only so much time, so put the time to the best use.
  4. Simplify the plans. The less complex an activity is, the more likely it will be enjoyed by all.
  5. Decide who will help with each activity. Let the visitors know that their help is needed if expectations are to be met.
  6. Don’t do everything together. If half the group wants to go skating and the other half to a carol service, let them go. Don’t try and force everyone to share all the activities.
  7. Do less. Figure out which things are necessary to do, which would be nice to do, which can be put off for a few days. The vacuuming can wait a couple of days so the group can go skating on Boxing Day.
  8. Enjoy. The whole point of getting together during the holidays is to enjoy yourself and each other’s company. Don’t fill the schedule so full that there’s no time to visit. Don’t make activities so complex that you’re exhausted at the end of the day.

Celebrations don’t need to be high-stress times. Figure out what’s important, plan, and plan early. Then sit back and get the most enjoyment out of the holiday.

How to Save Money on Christmas Spending

Work from a Budget

Make a list of everyone you plan to give holiday gifts to this year with an estimate of what you want to spend. Add a small buffer for unexpected gifts for people you forgot to include, or for people who unexpectedly gave you a gift and you feel you must reciprocate. A gift card or homemade Christmas baking works well for these situations.

Research Ahead of Time

Spend some time getting gift ideas for everyone on your list. Once you have an idea of what you’re going buy, comparison shop on-line.

Pay Cash

It’s easy to overspend when you’re charging purchases to your credit card. When the money is coming right out of your bank account, you’re more likely to spend less.

Organize Your Shopping Time

The easiest way to stick to your Christmas gift budget is to block out a couple of specific times to shop and complete it during those times. Browsing leads to overbuying. If you plan to shop online, make that one of your designated shopping sessions.

Don’t Get Sucked in by a Sale

That foot massager may be a great price, but does it fit your budget? Does anyone on your list want a foot massager? If not, leave the “bargain” behind.

Don’t Buy for Yourself

It’s easy to see things you would like, while you’re out buying gifts for others. Even if it’s something you need, ignore it. Your bank account will be in better shape if you don’t give in to temptation.

Track Your Spending

When you see the numbers adding up, you’re less likely to overspend. Your log can be compared to your budget to ensure that you’re sticking to your plan.

Shop All Year

Shopping under pressure leads to overspending. Keep your eyes open all year round for sale items that will work for your gift requirements. If you shop early, you’ll save money and feel less stressed as the holidays approach.

Use eBay and Craigslist

Often you can find brand-new merchandise at bargain prices.

7 Steps Towards a More Satisfying Life

Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, of the University of California, has conducted considerable research in the area of personal satisfaction. The following seven points summarize her findings.

There’s a lot of common sense wrapped up in these steps. Unfortunately, our calendars and to-do lists often get in the way of common sense. If you find you “can’t get no satisfaction”, try any or all of the following.

1. Count your blessings. One way to do this is with a “gratitude journal” in which you write down three to five things for which you are currently thankful—from the mundane (your peonies are in bloom) to the magnificent (a child’s first steps). Do this once a week, say, on Sunday night. Keep it fresh by varying your entries as much as possible.

2. Practice acts of kindness. These should be both random (let that harried mom go ahead of you in the checkout line) and systematic (bring Sunday supper to an elderly neighbour). Being kind to others, whether friends or strangers, triggers a cascade of positive effects—it makes you feel generous and capable, gives you a greater sense of connection with others and wins you smiles, approval and reciprocated kindness—all happiness boosters.

3. Savour life’s joys. Pay close attention to momentary pleasures and wonders. Focus on the sweetness of a ripe strawberry or the warmth of the sun when you step out from the shade. Some psychologists suggest taking “mental photographs” of pleasurable moments to review in less happy times.

4. Learn to forgive. Let go of anger and resentment by writing a letter of forgiveness to a person who has hurt or wronged you. Inability to forgive is associated with persistent rumination or dwelling on revenge, while forgiving allows you to move on.

5. Invest time and energy in friends and family. Where you live, how much money you make, your job title and even your health have surprisingly small effects on your satisfaction with life. The biggest factor appears to be strong personal relationships.

6. Take care of your body. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising, stretching, smiling and laughing can all enhance your mood in the short term. Practiced regularly, they can help make your daily life more satisfying.

7. Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardships. There is no avoiding hard times. Religious faith has been shown to help people cope, but so do the secular beliefs enshrined in axioms like “This too shall pass” and “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” The trick is that you have to believe them.

How to be content with what you have

Do you remember buying your first car? You worked hard, saved your money, and went out and bought a 15-year-old used car. You were so proud as you drove home. Along the way, or even out of the way, you stopped to show all your friends and take them for a ride. You had a car, and all was right with your world.
How long did that feeling last? When did you start noticing the dents and rust, the scratches in the paint job? When did you start noticing all the newer cars for sale at about the same price you paid for your clunker? The glow wears off and discontent sets in.
Most of us, at some level, get caught up in the cycle of wanting more. Yet there are people how seem more satisfied with what they have out of life. How does that happen?
Here are some tips to help you remain content with your life.
  • Keep positive – Focus on things that are going well. Everybody has some measure of difficulty in their lives. If you spend too much time focused on the negative, you will never feel content with what is going well.
  • Don’t worry – Every time you start to worry about things you don’t have, ask yourself this question, “How much difference is this going to make in five years?” If the answer is, “not much,” stop worrying. It’s not worth the effort.
  • Be thankful – Look at what you do have: food, shelter, friends, family, a job, etc. Don’t gloat but recognize that you are much better off than many people in the world.
  • Live well – Have you ever known someone who bought a new living-room suite and then covered it in plastic to protect it? Suddenly it seems more like a showroom than a living room. Get the most out of what you have.
  • Get involved with others – Volunteer! Get out in the community and give something back to someone in need. It is difficult to wallow in discontent when you’re dealing with the challenges others are facing.
Don’t get me wrong, discontent can be a useful thing. For example, discontent with one’s weight can lead to diet and exercise. However, if the discontent gets out of control, diet can become an eating disorder. To keep our lives in balance, we need to learn to be content with what we have.
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Fill your day with joy

We spend a lot of time in the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is a great thing, but can be subjective, based on circumstances. Joy brings a deeper sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Joy is foundational; a sense that all will work out, even when the immediate circumstances aren’t going the way we would like.

Richard Wagner said, “Joy is not in things; it is in us.” We chase happiness, but we build joy. There are many ways to develop a joyful attitude; here are three simple daily activities anyone can try:

Start each day with a pleasant word – When the alarm sounds in the morning, the first words I say to my wife are, “I love you”. Start the day with a positive thought or word, even if —or especially if— you’re not a “morning person”. If the first thought in your head as you wake up involves grumbling, you can bet the rest of the day is going to feel lousy.

Smile more – You don’t have to spend the day grinning like an idiot, but there is nothing quite as infectious as sharing a smile. It’s impossible to remain miserable or angry while smiling. People who develop a sense of joy can smile even through the deepest loss.

Encourage someone everyday – One of the quickest ways to build joy is to shift the focus from yourself to others; and an easy way to shift that focus is to encourage someone. This is active behaviour. It’s not good enough to think positive thoughts about some else. Take the time to communicate the encouragement.

Joy is infectious. Not only can we share it with those around us, but as we share joy, it continues to grow within us. Get out there and share some joy.