A Composed Christmas

Back in July, I warned you this day would come.  I mentioned that in September I would start preparing for Christmas and invited you to join me.

Not because the stores have started putting up Christmas decorations already.  They are intent on rushing us into a season of greed, busyness, and consumerism.  No, I want to avoid all of those things and be able to savor my Savior this Christmas while enjoying the traditions my family holds dear.  And, quite honestly, that means planning ahead so I don’t get sucked into the craziness and materialism the stores are already marketing.

In July I encouraged you to make a list of the things you wanted to include in your holiday season.  If you have that list, now is a good time to pull it out, dust it off, and get ready to start making it happen.  If you don’t have that list: make it today.  You can read my Christmas in July post for ideas to get you started.

Today I want to think about the annual update letter.  I love writing an update letter about our family.  It helps me to realize and recognize our victories, which is encouraging to a mama who so often sees the ongoing needs for growth in her children.  As soon as one issue is resolved another crops up.  Taking time to write about how we’ve grown and changed reminds me of the victories.  I need that encouragement.

I don’t love (as a matter of fact, I hate!) updating my contact list and verifying addresses.

Enter Mark Twain:

If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first.

I love that quote!  It’s such an awesome image.

Big Frog

Swallow the Frog

Since my biggest frog is dealing with my mailing list, I want to swallow it first.

If you are with me on this venture and you have “Update Letter” or “Send Christmas Cards” on your list of things which are important to you during the holidays, read on!

Today I will start verifying addresses.  I guess, technically, I started verifying addresses last January when we packed up Christmas 2013.

We have a “tradition” of reading all the cards we’ve received & checking out all the pictures one last time as part of putting away the decorations.  I take all the envelopes from this time and compare it to my mailing list and make any needed corrections right then.

But by September, people may have moved, died, gotten married, had a baby… more updates are needed.

So I start by opening my Christmas Mailing List spreadsheet.  {I’m not very original with my titles. :)}  I make a new tab in the spreadsheet for the current year.  Then I cut and paste the entire mailing list from last year’s tab into this year’s tab as a starting place.

I scan through the list and delete anyone to whom we no longer want to send a letter.

This usually jogs my memory about people I have met in the past year or with whom I’ve reconnected that I want to add to my list.  So I add them, Lord willing, with all their pertinent information.

Then I go through the list and highlight the rows of people I know have had a change of address or life as well as people I have reason to believe may have changed something – college students, for instance, frequently change addresses.

Then I start the process of verifying their addresses – email, phone call, Facebook message, text…  Pro-tip:  it is a lot easier to get a response if you start by providing the last address you have for them.  For instance, “Julia, I am just updating my addresses and wanted to make sure you are still at P.O. Box 321, Crab Orchard, TN 37723.  Is this right?”  If someone sees that message, and the address is correct, they can send a quick, “Yep!  You’ve got it!  How are you doing?”  If it’s incorrect, they’ll probably get back to you a little later when they have time to type in their corrections.

As soon as I get a response, I make the corrections in my spreadsheet and un-highlight their row.

Occasionally I don’t get a response for longer than I am willing to wait, and I’ll contact someone else about their address.  “Hey Shannon!  Do you know if Julia’s address is still P.O. Box 321 in Crab Orchard?”  It saves me from feeling like a collection agency, anyway.  🙂

Now, I’m a finisher.  I like things completed.  So it is important for me to set my expectations that I will not finish this task in a day.  Perhaps that’s why it is a frog for me.  I have to wait.  I start this process in September so I can get it done before I, or others, get caught up in the busyness of gift purchases, menu planning, Christmas parties, etc.

Small(er) Frog

Small(er) Frog

 

 

The small(er) frog for me is addressing & stamping the letters, so I always do that next.  It also guarantees I’ll get my letter out, because I’ve got over $50 in postage attached to the envelopes and I don’t like to waste money…

Once my mailing list is complete and verified, I complete a mail merge and print all the addresses either on labels or on the envelopes.  I don’t know how I decide which to do, it varies from year to year.  Maybe it’s the time I have to sit at the printer, the cost of labels, or the position of Venus with respect to Mars in the night sky.  I really cannot say.  But one way or another I get those addresses printed.

If I’ve opted for labels, I take 1/2 an hour, set up an assembly line of children who like to “do stickers” and we get the envelopes ready to go.  The first child does the return address sticker, next comes the mailing address sticker, and finally the postage-stamp sticker.  We only mail around 100 letters, so it really doesn’t take that long.

Later, when we get around to writing the letter, the envelopes are ready to receive.  At that point I can print, fold, add picture, stuff, and seal the envelopes in another assembly line…

So, what are your Christmas frogs?  Are you going to swallow the mailing list problem in September?  I know it seems really early, but it’s one of those things that you really can do early.  Making fudge or Candy Cane Syrup is a bit premature.  And it’s way to early to decorate the tree…

If you do this now, I promise you’ll be glad you did!

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Photo Credit:
A Composed Christmas photo by christmasstockimages.com [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Big Frog by Max (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Little Frog by Whotheheckareyou [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons