Tag Archives: Christmas cards

“Peace, Be Still”

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Birmingham

The overly attributed quip, “If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t really there,” does not apply to me.

I remember the ‘60s very well but I was too young, at the time, to be “really there.” I remember the decade as energetic and often frightening with assassinations, bombings, riots, Vietnam, constant protests, and the birth and maturation of an array of social movements. It was also a time of great music and free-wheeling fashion. It was scary at times, but it was also hopeful with optimism, a desire for change, and a constant moving forward toward an idealistic place that seemed inevitable and just around the bend.

Now, we’re again in challenging times with mercurial instability and megalomania occupying the White House. I cringe with shame and embarrassment for my country at incessant narcissistic White House tweets from a cowardly bully that are mistaken for policy statements. We are in the midst of crises with an ongoing stream of mass shootings, a commander-in-chief who demeans women, environmental disaster, an embattled education system, the complicity of our congress with corrupt insurance companies threatening our health care, a growing racial divide, and a protective executive relationship with  a corrupt, repressive, and murderous Saudi regime. Authoritarian dictators are given respect and deference by a White House that insults our nation’s trusted democratic allies. The NRA has abandoned any lofty Constitutional goals it claimed to espouse and become, instead, an enabler of domestic terrorism.

These days, we seem lacking in the optimism and hope that characterized the ‘60s. Mass protests, which had an impact during the ‘60s and early ‘70s, now seem naïve and pointless in the current environment saturated with meaningless social media. I’m embarrassed when I hear the same tired chants and cheers – even when I agree with the sentiments that inspire them.

In Lanford Wilson’s great play, Fifth of July, June Talley – a former ‘60s activist – tells her daughter, “You’ve no idea the country we almost made for you. The fact that I think it’s all a crock now does not take away from what we almost achieved.”

Later in the play, one of June’s fellow sojourners from the activist days says to that same daughter, “How straight do you have to be to see that nothing is going to come from it? But don’t knock your mother, ’cause she really believed that ‘Power to the People’ song, and that hurts.”

As much as I try to be engaged in progressive change, I grow weary of the constant divide and the shouting from every side. The message with every issue seems to be Either you’re totally with us or you’re against us. There seems to be no acceptable middle zone anymore. Civility, compromise, and diplomacy are forgotten relics in contemporary social discourse. It’s trickling down from the top in our country.


As regular readers of this journal know, I put a good bit of thought into my annual holiday card – trying to find the best reflection of where my life and thoughts are each year when the holidays roll around. I have written in the past about the “brief meditation” of signing and addressing each card and remembering the recipient. My Christmas card this year bears a simple message: “Peace, Be Still.” It’s a quote from the Bible, from the Gospel of Mark’s version of Jesus calming the stormy sea.

I wanted to change up my Christmas card a bit this year. Instead of the exterior scenes I usually use (most often of small country churches), I used an interior from the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham. The cathedral was empty on the Christmas Eve morning when I photographed it last year – a peaceful place to relax and retreat. As I moved around the space, taking photographs, a couple of women arrived to prepare for Christmas Eve mass.

In these times of stress, I seek quiet times and calm – a time to reflect. I try not to add to the raucous din that surrounds me.

At this holiday season, it seems more than ever that everybody needs to take a moment to regroup, to be still – to focus on the positive things in our lives and try to tune out the negativity that bombards us. In doing so, we may be better able to address the adversity and strife that surround us with clear heads and rational responses in the year ahead – a year for which I am reserving a great deal of optimism.

Current challenges may be resolved while new challenges inevitably emerge but we all need to step back and re-energize on occasion. The holidays seem the ideal time to pause and reflect.

May our holidays be happy and peaceful ones. May our new year be a time of hope and progress.

Peace on Earth. “Peace, be still.”

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Birmingham

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“… a brief meditation …” – Take 3

Church (c. 1871); Maplesville, Alabama; December 2016

 Here, again, is an updated version of an essay, “Why I Mail Christmas Cards,” from December 2014. Each year, I am asked about my Christmas card project so here’s another take:

My Christmas cards went in the mail on December 1. I started designing my own Christmas cards in 2004 and it has become something many of my correspondents seem to appreciate. And now expect.

I looked forward to receiving and looking at Christmas cards when I was a child and many of the people who sent cards to my parents every year were people I never met but felt I knew from the stories my mother would share about them each December when the card arrived. Genevieve O’Brien in Chicago, Christine Allen in Georgia, and Doris and Bill Fuller in Fort Worth are among the annual cards we received without fail from people I never met. When I was grown and out on my own, I would send Christmas cards as often as I could but sometimes work schedules or finances would make it prohibitive.

From a very young age I had set opinions about Christmas greetings and Christmas décor. For example, I am a Southerner and never quite understood why so many Southerners would buy into the Madison Avenue version of Christmas and send out pristine snow scenes and winter scenes depicting images that were not part of my reality of the season growing up in Alabama. I have traveled and worked all over the country and I have had white Christmases a few times. But the Christmases of most of my life have been bracing Alabama Christmases with a chill in the air and no snow. Actually, I’m not a fan of snow and have never once dreamed of a white Christmas.

When I decided to design my own Christmas cards I wanted to feature photographs that represented December in the South. I developed rules: 1) The photograph had to be taken during the month of December and 2) the photograph had to be taken somewhere in Alabama. Those are the only hard and fast rules but over time most of the photographs have been of old country churches I have discovered around the state. A couple of times the image has been landscapes around Mobile Bay where I try to spend some time each December. The project began shortly after 9/11 and every card since then has included the phrase “Peace on Earth.”

The only exception was in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. I didn’t design the card that year; instead, I purchased museum holiday cards with a detail from a still life of a bountiful holiday table which somehow reminded me of good times on the Gulf and in New Orleans.

I developed rituals: I try to get my card to the printer around October 1 each year. I start signing and addressing the cards by November 1. On December 1, my cards are in the mail. Over time the mailing list has gotten quite large. Most of the people on my list don’t send cards anymore. For me, however, it’s a way of keeping in touch with old friends and acquaintances all over the world. Some of them are people I may never see again but I like to keep a connection. I’ve moved around a lot in my life and the Christmas card list is something that keeps me in touch and grounded.

Most people who know about or receive my Christmas cards are grateful and look forward to them each year. Someone might ask if I’ve picked next year’s image yet or they’ll send me a new mailing address to ensure that they won’t miss this year’s card.

But occasionally someone will grouse “I don’t know why you do it. Who has the time? It’s so expensive. And so much trouble.” Here’s my response: If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. I do it because it gives me pleasure. I look forward to it. I want to do it.

With each card I sign and with each address I write on an envelope, it’s a brief meditation on that recipient.

When I first moved to Huntsville, there was a lady, Grace Clark, who lived in my apartment complex. We didn’t see each other often, but whenever we did we’d have a very pleasant conversation. I added her to my Christmas card list. She never mentioned my cards but when I moved from that apartment to my house I kept sending Christmas cards to Mrs. Clark. A couple of years ago, when Christmas was past, I received a note from a woman I didn’t know. She was Mrs. Clark’s daughter telling me that her mother had recently passed away. She told me that when she was going through her mother’s papers, she found a stack of my Christmas cards. Mrs. Clark had saved each one over the years.

If you don’t have time to send Christmas cards, I totally understand. I’m busy too. I have no time for Facebook and Twitter. We each choose what we have time to do.

The 2017 image, by the way, is a church in Maplesville, Chilton County, Alabama, that was built around 1871, the year that Birmingham was founded. It sits serenely beside a railroad track, down the street from the town’s old train depot

I have realized that the frequent choice of little white country churches for the annual mailing almost makes it seem like I’m sending the same card every year. I’m toying with the idea of some changes for next year’s Christmas card. Stay tuned …

and Happy Holidays. 

“… a brief meditation …” – Take 3

Church (c. 1871); Maplesville, Alabama; December 2016

 Here, again, is an updated version of an essay, “Why I Mail Christmas Cards,” from December 2014. Each year, I am asked about my Christmas card project so here’s another take:

My Christmas cards went in the mail on December 1. I started designing my own Christmas cards in 2004 and it has become something many of my correspondents seem to appreciate. And now expect.

I looked forward to receiving and looking at Christmas cards when I was a child and many of the people who sent cards to my parents every year were people I never met but felt I knew from the stories my mother would share about them each December when the card arrived. Genevieve O’Brien in Chicago, Christine Allen in Georgia, and Doris and Bill Fuller in Fort Worth are among the annual cards we received without fail from people I never met. When I was grown and out on my own, I would send Christmas cards as often as I could but sometimes work schedules or finances would make it prohibitive.

From a very young age I had set opinions about Christmas greetings and Christmas décor. For example, I am a Southerner and never quite understood why so many Southerners would buy into the Madison Avenue version of Christmas and send out pristine snow scenes and winter scenes depicting images that were not part of my reality of the season growing up in Alabama. I have traveled and worked all over the country and I have had white Christmases a few times. But the Christmases of most of my life have been bracing Alabama Christmases with a chill in the air and no snow. Actually, I’m not a fan of snow and have never once dreamed of a white Christmas.

When I decided to design my own Christmas cards I wanted to feature photographs that represented December in the South. I developed rules: 1) The photograph had to be taken during the month of December and 2) the photograph had to be taken somewhere in Alabama. Those are the only hard and fast rules but over time most of the photographs have been of old country churches I have discovered around the state. A couple of times the image has been landscapes around Mobile Bay where I try to spend some time each December. The project began shortly after 9/11 and every card since then has included the phrase “Peace on Earth.”

The only exception was in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. I didn’t design the card that year; instead, I purchased museum holiday cards with a detail from a still life of a bountiful holiday table which somehow reminded me of good times on the Gulf and in New Orleans.

I developed rituals: I try to get my card to the printer around October 1 each year. I start signing and addressing the cards by November 1. On December 1, my cards are in the mail. Over time the mailing list has gotten quite large. Most of the people on my list don’t send cards anymore. For me, however, it’s a way of keeping in touch with old friends and acquaintances all over the world. Some of them are people I may never see again but I like to keep a connection. I’ve moved around a lot in my life and the Christmas card list is something that keeps me in touch and grounded.

Most people who know about or receive my Christmas cards are grateful and look forward to them each year. Someone might ask if I’ve picked next year’s image yet or they’ll send me a new mailing address to ensure that they won’t miss this year’s card.

But occasionally someone will grouse “I don’t know why you do it. Who has the time? It’s so expensive. And so much trouble.” Here’s my response: If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. I do it because it gives me pleasure. I look forward to it. I want to do it.

With each card I sign and with each address I write on an envelope, it’s a brief meditation on that recipient.

When I first moved to Huntsville, there was a lady, Grace Clark, who lived in my apartment complex. We didn’t see each other often, but whenever we did we’d have a very pleasant conversation. I added her to my Christmas card list. She never mentioned my cards but when I moved from that apartment to my house I kept sending Christmas cards to Mrs. Clark. A couple of years ago, when Christmas was past, I received a note from a woman I didn’t know. She was Mrs. Clark’s daughter telling me that her mother had recently passed away. She told me that when she was going through her mother’s papers, she found a stack of my Christmas cards. Mrs. Clark had saved each one over the years.

If you don’t have time to send Christmas cards, I totally understand. I’m busy too. I have no time for Facebook and Twitter. We each choose what we have time to do.

The 2017 image, by the way, is a church in Maplesville, Chilton County, Alabama, that was built around 1871, the year that Birmingham was founded. It sits serenely beside a railroad track, down the street from the town’s old train depot

I have realized that the frequent choice of little white country churches for the annual mailing almost makes it seem like I’m sending the same card every year. I’m toying with the idea of some changes for next year’s Christmas card. Stay tuned …

and Happy Holidays.

“… a brief meditation …” : Why I Mail Christmas Cards

IMG_0444   My Christmas cards went in the mail on December 1. I started designing my own Christmas cards over a decade ago and it has become something many of my correspondents seem to appreciate. And expect.

I looked forward to receiving and looking at Christmas cards when I was a child and many of the people who sent cards to my parents every year were people I never met but felt I knew from the stories my mother would share about them each December when the card arrived. Genevieve O’Brien in Chicago, Christine Allen in Georgia, and Doris and Bill Fuller in Fort Worth are among the annual cards we received without fail from people I never met. When I was grown and out on my own, I would send Christmas cards as often as I could but sometimes work schedules or finances would make it prohibitive.

From a very young age I had set opinions about Christmas greetings and Christmas décor. For example, I am a Southerner and never quite understood why so many Southerners would buy into the Madison Avenue version of Christmas and send out pristine snow scenes and winter scenes depicting images that were not part of my reality of the season growing up in Alabama. I have traveled and worked all over the country and I have had white Christmases a few times. But the Christmases of most of my life have been bracing Alabama Christmases with a chill in the air and no snow. Actually, I’m not a fan of snow and have never once dreamed of a white Christmas.

A number of years ago I decided to design my own Christmas cards and feature photographs that represented December in the South. I developed rules: 1) The photograph had to be taken during the month of December and 2) the photograph had to be taken somewhere in Alabama. Those are the only hard and fast rules but over time most of the photographs have been of old country churches I have discovered around the state. A couple of times the image has been landscapes around Mobile Bay where I try to spend some time each December.

The only exception was in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. I didn’t design the card that year; instead, I purchased museum holiday cards with a detail from a still life of a bountiful holiday table which somehow reminded me of good times on the Gulf and in New Orleans.

I developed rituals: I try to get my card to the printer around October 1 each year. I start signing and addressing the cards by November 1. On December 1, my cards are in the mail. Over time the mailing list has gotten quite large. Most of the people on my list don’t send cards anymore. For me, however, it’s a way of keeping in touch with old friends and acquaintances all over the world. Some of them are people I may never see again but I like to keep a connection. I’ve moved around a lot in my life and the Christmas card list is something that keeps me in touch and grounded.

Most people who know about or receive my Christmas cards are grateful and look forward to them each year. Someone might ask if I’ve picked next year’s image yet or they’ll send me a new mailing address to ensure that they won’t miss this year’s card.

But occasionally someone will grouse “I don’t know why you do it. Who has the time? It’s so expensive. And so much trouble.” Here’s my response: If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. I do it because it gives me pleasure. I look forward to it. I want to do it.

With each card I sign and with each address I write on an envelope, it’s a brief meditation on that recipient.

When I first moved to Huntsville, there was a lady, Grace Clark, who lived in my apartment complex. We didn’t see each other often, but whenever we did we’d have a very pleasant conversation. I added her to my Christmas card list. She never mentioned my cards but when I moved from that apartment to my house I kept sending Christmas cards to Mrs. Clark. A couple of years ago, when Christmas was past, I received a note from a woman I didn’t know. She was Mrs. Clark’s daughter telling me that her mother had recently passed away. She told me that when she was going through her mother’s papers, she found a stack of my Christmas cards. Mrs. Clark had saved each one over the years.

If you don’t have time to send Christmas cards, I totally understand. I’m busy too. I have no time for Facebook and Twitter. We each choose what we have time to do.

This year’s image, by the way, is St. Luke’s Church (c. 1850), a cedar church in Cahaba. Cahaba is a ghost town and state park now, but it was Alabama’s first state capital from 1820-1826.

Happy Holidays.IMG_0456