Holiday Planning: Custom Cards

I am a big fan of ecards – both the commercial ones and ones I make myself. I love the fun and quirky Just Wink cards from American Greetings. I have the app on my iPhone (also available for Android, Kindle tablets, NOOK tablets and Windows Phones) and it’s an easy way to send a card that can be opened and read right in the email message, Facebook update or text message. You can even mail it as a “real” card if you want.

Quirky is fun for many situations, but Christmas isn’t one of them. I prefer something more traditional and family oriented. And, although the list keeps getting smaller, there are still a number of people on my list who only get paper cards. As a result, I have a growing collection of leftover Christmas cards taking up space in the office cupboards. Fortunately, there are now a number of very nice – and affordable – options which give me the choice of sending both digital and paper cards that can include both photos and personal notes. And, they even offer features that make the chore of getting holiday cards done a bit easier.

iPhoto Cards

My favorite “snail-mail” card service is Apple’s beautiful letterpress cards. Found in the desktop iPhoto ’11 app, you can create either post cards or folded cards from your choice of design and layout options. The folded cards have layout options that support multiple photos and some even have plenty of room to include a lengthy personal note.

American Greetings also has a build and mail service where you can build your own cards and they will send them for you. No special app is needed, just your web browser.

Hallmark provides a huge variety of holiday ecards – all a part of their very affordable ecard subscription service. They also do beautiful photo cards and offer a service where you build your card with the photo and greeting you want and Hallmark will print, address and mail your card to everyone on your list.

The Lifecards app [iOS – $1.99] offers both postcard and newsletter style greetings as ecards. There are designs and layouts for all kinds of situations and occasions. One of the things I really like about this app is the ability to email as well as save it as a PDF file.

Want to create something totally original? Get out your presentation software – Keynote, PowerPoint or Impress – and take advantage of all the “actions” available. This article from Valentine’s Day will remind you how easy they are to build.


Christmas is Coming!

Fall is just around the corner and Christmas isn’t far behind. If you’re considering custom-designed Christmas gifts at affordable prices, now’s the time to get started.  Here’s a couple of ideas that make great gifts:

  • Custom note cards.  One Christmas my sister-in-law had 6 sets of notecards (12 cards per set) created from her original photos.  She then re-arranged the cards so each set contained 2 of each photo.  She had them done by Shutterfly at $9.99/set – a small cost to her, but priceless to each of us.  You could use original photos or old family photos for your cards.
  • Framed art.  Jazz up a photo to look older – sepia coloring, jagged edges, whatever – then print it out on tee-shirt transfer paper.  Now, iron it on to gessoed canvas (I was more successful using those canvas boards than a stretched canvas.) for a truly unique piece of art. A digitized copy of a piece of heirloom artwork can be printed on artist-quality watercolor paper or even canvas to make a stunning gift for a special someone.
  • CalendarsLulu has a great calendar-building platform that lets you pull your photos in from just about any of the major photo-sharing sites. Not only can you add your own events – birthdays, anniversaries, special days in your family’s history – but you can put photos into days on your calendar. So, not only can you announce that it’s Cousin Joe’s birthday, you can display his baby picture on that day.
  • Calendar magnets.  A cheap calendar option is to make your own and print it on inkjet magnet sheets.  Use some of those advertising calendars businesses send out as inspiration to create a single 12-month calendar with your own photo/graphic and it will look great on anyone’s frig!
  • Christmas ornaments.  Many of the services mentioned below will make ornaments from your photo or graphic.  Take a lesson from Hallmark and create your own keepsake ornaments each year. These are always precious treasures for Grandma and other family members who are tough to buy for! It could also be the basis for building a unique family tree.

Now you see why we’re talking about this in September.  You’ll need to do some research and it will take some time to get all your photos and designs pulled together.  Then too, you won’t find yourself saving much money if you’re spending megabucks for overnight shipping at the last minute.

grunge portrait

Need some more ideas? You’ll find lots of ideas in my book, The Future of Memories. Download your copy today.

Check out these photo/gift printing services to see which one works best for you:

Categories, tags and menus, oh my!

One of the *** many *** benefits of blogging your family history is that it doesn’t take too long before those family story posts become quite a collection. Fortunately, WordPress gives you a number of tools to help you display those individual posts as a well-organized family history. Let’s take a look.

nested categories screenshot

An example of nested categories.

First there are categories and tags. Think of categories as sections within your site. You can organize your content by timeline, by location or by surname just by assigning each post to a category. You can even separate content – like an area for family history posts and another area discussing your research efforts. And, since categories can be nested, you could have a category for a surname with sub-categories for the different family groups in that surname.

While WordPress uses categories to organize the display of content on your site, tags are the digital equivalent of the index. You can assign any number of tags to a post to further identify what it discusses. For example, if your post is discussing an ancestor’s service in the Civil War, you could include tags to identify him, his unit and the battle or location being discussed. WordPress can quickly display all posts assigned a specific tag so with a bit of thought you can use them to quickly display all military stories, Civil War stories, stories about traditions or stories related to a specific location.

There are no limits to the number of tags you can include with a post, the challenge is to maintain consistency. WordPress doesn’t know that “World War II” and “WWII” are the same event. It’s easy to add or update tags at any time using WordPress’s bulk edit feature.

bulk edit screenshot

Bulk editing post metadata

From the posts list, select the posts you want to update, choose the Edit option from the Bulk Actions drop-down menu, then click on Apply. The bulk edit screen appears giving you the ability to change several post parameters – including tags. Here you see I’ve entered a “lost” tag. Next click the Update button and each of the selected posts will be updated. Note that the number of posts being updated will impact how long it takes for the process to complete.

So, how do you use these features to construct a beautifully organized site? Here’s where custom menus come in. Most themes automatically use categories to build the default main menu. Your top-level categories will become the menu items and most will display sub-categories as some kind of second-level menu item. Exactly how and where these things appear depends on the theme. You can build your own custom menus (yes, more than one) and use them in more ways than just presenting a main menu at the top of the screen.

WordPress menu editor

WordPress menu editor

In this example, I’m building a “section” menu for the blog section of Moultrie Creek Books. The menu editor is located under the Appearance section in your work area. In this example, I’ve set up “Blog” as a parent category and created sub-categories for News, Book Notes, Reviews and Authors. My bookstore’s main menu lists the Blog category with only the Author Interviews and Book Reviews as sub-categories. If a visitor clicks the Blog menu item, WordPress will display all of the blog content and all of the sub-categories’ content as well – all in reverse chronological order. What I want to do now is build a small menu that will only appear on the Blog category screens to allow visitors to just wander through the various types of blog content.

custom menu widget

Configuring the Custom Menu widget.

Notice the left panel in the menu editor is used to collect the content that will be presented via your menu items. You can present specific pages, custom links or specific content categories – which is what I’m using here. I have already checked each of the blog sub-category items and then clicked the Add to Menu button. Those items then appear in the right pane for additional editing. Next I rearranged my menu by dragging the News menu item to the bottom of the list. Now I want to change the label that is displayed for the Authors category to read Author Interviews. I clicked on the down arrow icon to the right of the menu item to display this pane, then made my changes. I could also add a title attribute to this link if I wish. The title attribute is used to specify additional information about the link and often appears to the visitor as a tooltip. In this case, I’m not going to use it. Click on the down arrow again to close the edit pane. When I’ve finished building my menu, I’ll click the Save Menu button.

One last step – displaying the menu. In the Widgets section, drag a Custom Menu widget to the appropriate widget area (the sidebar in this example). I’ve given my widget a custom title, then selected which menu to display. I then clicked the Visibility button to define when this menu will appear in this sidebar. I added the Blog category and each sub-category so it will be visible when a visitor is looking at any of the blog category collections. Save the widget and I’m done.

By organizing my site content with categories and setting up several custom menus, I have “built” sections within my site in a matter of minutes. Yes, each category is still presented in reverse chronological order, but if you want to create menus of specific posts in a customized order, you can use the links section to build links to individual posts then arrange them in whatever order you prefer.

And what about those tags? Many themes display the tags assigned to a post as part of that post’s metadata. Often, they are displayed as links which, when followed, will display all content tagged with that tag. You can also put a Tag Cloud widget in the sidebar or footer and label the widget with something like “Choose a Topic”. Tag clouds are becoming common enough that most people are quite comfortable using them to find content. You might even create custom menu links to specific tags.

Developing a plan for using categories and tags on your posts makes it easy to use WordPress’s many tools to display your content in creative ways. Thanks to WordPress, you’re not stuck in reverse chronological order forever.