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Making Holiday Photo Cards Tweet This   Forward This

20 December 2012

One of the rituals that warms up the holidays for us is sending cards to family members and old friends we don't get to see much during the year. For years now, we've made our own photo cards. And oddly enough, we always look forward to it.

That's probably because it really is a ritual, not a task.

It starts with the photo. Or photos. When we first started doing this, we sent the same image to everyone. But we've found it's a great deal more fun to use more than one image.

Work Table. Labels, tape, blanks, scratcher (to help peel the double-sided tape), even one of the prints.

It makes it easier to think of something fresh to say in the card, for one thing. And it's amusing to decide who gets which image.

So we've sent as many as four different images in one year. Although this year we settled on two.

We cull them from our shots around the city taken after Thanksgiving. We go downtown with a camera and shoot whatever we like as we shop at the art store, have lunch at the cafe, tour the decorated windows and end up at the Pied Piper in the Sheraton Palace to revive ourselves.

After we've tweaked the image and made a print we like, we just let the printer roll out however many we need of that image while we do something productive. Then we set them aside until we have time to mount them.

We mount the prints on Strathmore's Photo Mount cards. The snow white card stock is embossed with a decorative frame so it's easy to align a 4x6 photo. The cards come with (plenty of) double-sided tape to attach the photo to the card.

That step doesn't take much time either. In fact, the most time consuming part of the whole thing is getting stamps because we walk to one of the not-very-nearby Post Offices to buy them. We could buy them by mail but then this wouldn't be nearly the heart-healthy ritual it is.

We've almost always sent the cards at the last minute. And everybody always gets them before Christmas. The trick is in how we address the cards.

We use Avery 5161 white address labels, which come 20 to a sheet. And in an InDesign document, we have laid out names and addresses for each label. Any word processor will do, of course, and Avery even has free templates for the labels.

But we also add a barcode. That saves the Post Office a day, we're told, because the cards can be sorted by optical scanners instead of human ones.

We used to use a database to keep track of the addresses. And it would calculate the bar code (which is composed of a start and stop sequence, the ZIP+4 number and a check digit). And the output form was smart enough to change fonts.

But one operating system update or another made that obsolete and we resorted to a spreadsheet to calculate the check digit and a word processing document to print a multi-font page. We update the document throughout the year as addresses change.

At the Fire. Labels, cards, stamps, pen, envelopes.

That sheet of 20 addresses is our limit. When we lose someone, we add one of the nieces or nephews, but that's about it. Our list doesn't grow. It should, we realize, but doing 20 of these things by hand is plenty.

So, in something like a flash, we've got our mounted photo cards, stamps and address labels ready for an elf with time on his hands to help out.

Which, of course, never happens.

So we came up with a better idea. We pick a night after the tree is up, put some holiday music on the stereo, light a log in the fireplace, pour what's left of the brandy bought for eggnogs into one of Great Uncle Louie's old glasses, get the antique lap desk set up on the ottoman and unscrew the old Montblanc fountain pen. If you're going to invent a holiday ritual, you might as well have some props.

Then, label by label, we do the cards, writing a few lines and sealing them up when the ink has dried. Before we know it, we're done. If there's a few working days left before Christmas, we walk them up the hill under the stars to the mailbox. If there isn't, we take them to the Post Office the next day.

It's fun to shoot the images, fun to tweak them, fun to busy ourselves assembling the cards, fun to sit by the fire and remember the people closest to us.

We can hardly wait for next year.

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