One of my favorite things that I do each fall is work on my annual Christmas card. I typically come up with the beginning stages of my idea as I’m hunched over a cutting mat working on E’s birthday invitations in mid-July. I make the paper stock purchases in late August when my favorite art supply store runs their back-to-school sale and I bring home boxes full of paper and envelopes – enough to make and send just under one hundred of them. I’ve never been the greatest at getting birthday cards in the mail on time during the year. I do try and write letters via snail mail every once in awhile to long distance friends. And I think we do a pretty good job of keeping people updated on our lives here via this blog and email and the occasional phone call. But even if I fall short of my correspondence goals throughout the year, I always know that some time in mid-December an envelope will show up in every one’s mailbox with a little note and a piece of my time and creative energy in it. Making them is a joy for me, and it stretches through the fall and helps me get into the Christmas spirit.
This year was a bit different for me. I still had ideas percolating in my head in July, I purchased the supplies in August, and I had a few sketches in my day planner on random days in September. By October I was preoccupied with our most splendid fall weather, the excitement of the upcoming election, and our new “real” school schedule. We were outside, we were canvassing and making phone calls, we were making Halloween costumes and visiting new cousins…and the boxes of paper sat untouched in the cabinet. In November I weaned myself from compulsive election poll updates and political websites and made a few meager attempts at my original card idea. The weather continued to be inspired, and I couldn’t focus. November was a month of distraction. I needed a serious re-boot. The x-acto knife laid dormant. Thanksgiving snuck up on us, and when we headed off on the first of four major out-of-town trips over six weeks I thought of perhaps taking the envelopes with me and addressing those. But I didn’t.
When we got back home from that trip, M promptly left for a week long conference, and I had high hopes of my late night solitary cut-a-thons. But my original ideas (ambitious to a fault) were not working out, and I had no plan B. And it was just much more comfortable going to bed at the same time as my kindergartner. I like to think that I got a lot of “mental planning” done on the cards during that week, but even that would be a stretch. My mental planning consisted of a big ol’ mental blank. I was blocked. Card-blocked. It was painful. I had never been there before. Advent was a series of numbers reminding me in no uncertain terms just how many days I had left to get myself un-blocked. Oh, and also designed, drawn, cut, painted, pasted, typed, signed, addressed, stamped, licked and mailed. It’s not that it had become a chore – I enjoy doing it so much that it was just a disappointment. I knew everyone would forgive me if they were late, or not there at all. But it’s one of my own favorite traditions of the season and I just…had…nothing.
So I made myself do a little exercise – and I started thinking about where my ideas usually are generated. My first Christmas card design was a series of paper doll snowmen, each with its own little personality and accessories (I loved that card – and I love seeing it come back out in the Christmas decorations of friends and family each year)! I’m not quite sure what inspired it, but perhaps it was the snowy city of Minneapolis where my not-yet-husband lived at the time. The next year there was a card about dancing and the celebration of our wedding that year. Then I had the “before” and the “after” Christmas trees on a card that announced our first website of “before” and “after” renovation pictures. How I found time to put those together amidst all the mess of our house project is beyond me. In fact, I even remember putting my 2002 card together on the living room floor – the only clean and empty spot in the house. It was a series of paper Christmas lights wound through twisted wire, with a note wishing everyone a season full of wonderful surprises. And we had a wonderful surprise to share that year – announcing to family that we were expecting our first child the following summer.
With the addition of a cute kid, the card making got a lot easier. The following year was about wonder and glee and I remember our pastor talking about it, and the pictures of our smiling four-month-old, in one of the advent services that year. 2004 was a big year of house progress and toddler-turning progress, and the blue cards had three squares on them – the center one was a paper cutout of our house with the light on in the attic dormer. We had finished that massive project that would become the inspiration for this blog, and the home for many a lazy, snowy winter afternoon spent reading books up in that comfy attic bedroom. And that picture – the one of that fifteen-month-old in that dotted dress and the dimples. I’m looking at it right now and smiling, wistful.
The snow globe the next year seems to be a favorite of most everyone. E was a two-year-old in perpetual braids and bows and she was curious about everything. All it took was one shake of a snow globe in a store somewhere and that idea fell right into place. I loved making that card. I adored it. I took photos of the dining room table covered in cellophane circles with white painted dots. By three years of age, I thought I might get my creative muse involved in the project, and we schemed and plotted and sketched on coffee shop napkins our plans for that year’s card. By now we were getting used to the vigorous travel requirements of the season and we decided to celebrate them rather than become overwhelmed by them. So we took the kiddo’s favorite subject – cars – and we loaded the rooftop with bags and suitcases and packages and trees and she sorted beads and baubles for hours by my side. That card was a blast to make.
Last year I went a bit more traditional, and a lot more crazy, with an ink rendering of our house that was reproduced in triplicate, cut out and layered dimensionally, and adorned with a few simple Christmas embellishments. It now hangs, framed, in the homes of some friends and family. I was reflecting a lot that season – on the year ahead that would bring great political change, in my own frustrations with conflict around this world, and with my own changes and decisions and direction I was taking in my own life. I had a lot on my mind, and I needed those long, late nights of cutting white paper on a card that spoke of and longed for peace.
So that was the journey through cards from 1999 to the present, but I still needed some inspiration for this year’s card. I knew it had to be simple, it wouldn’t have photographs or elaborate letters because there wasn’t the time. It just needed to represent where we are, what we are up to, and what we wished for ourselves, and for you, for the upcoming year. And then the inspiration came, and it came straight from a card that I started working on almost six years before.
This was a part of the birth announcement that I made for E before we even knew she would be E. We didn’t wish to find out if we were having a girl or a boy, but we knew we wanted to send out an announcement immediately after she arrived – a true announcement of her birth. So I cut out the paper doll figures of boy-girl-boy-girl (perhaps inspired by that snowman card?) and I had white paper on the inside ready to receive those first few photographs of the baby and either a pink heart (in the girl) or a green heart (in the boy). I had ninety tags of pink that read “she’s here” and ninety tags of green that read “he’s here”. The template was ready on the computer with both names and when she came the pink went on and out they went. And although I nearly went mad cutting out all those tiny paper doll figures – it was a great way to wind down those last few weeks of pregnancy and get into the baby spirit. And that’s what I was searching for now, a way to get into that Christmas spirit, a way to get back into the swing of things, a way to prepare myself and to reach out to those that I love and that I think of throughout the year.
We’re all about three around here. We love our three floors, we love this unit of three, I find a sense of balance and order and symmetry in groups of three. It’s a comfortable number, it’s a number that we are used to, and a number that provides us balance and stability. But as I looked through those old cards, and thought about where we were going in this next year, I found comfort and balance and stability, and excitement in those four paper doll cut outs. For we were about to become four. My step-by-step making of those gingerbread men, the message of preparation and anticipation of the season, and of what was to come – that was the real message – blatant or subtle – that I wished to get across in this year’s card. It was perfect. It was secret. But it was there. And so the card making began.
We are expecting the fourth member of our family in July. We first learned the news on the morning that I knocked on doors and hung fliers on doorknobs in late October for the upcoming election. We painted a shirt with “HOPE” on it and held our own private “hope” close to ourselves, close to our heart. We’ve put five thousand miles on our car since Thanksgiving, and my family has endured my endless, racking sickness along each of those endless miles. I drastically cut my holiday to-do list down, turned off all guilt responses to anything left undone by day 25, and truly tried to live out the message within that card. We’re slowing down, we’re taking care of ourselves, I’m being taken care of by two of the most generous, compassionate people that I know. I am lucky. We are lucky. And soon we will be four.