Why I Will Never Win the Pulitzer for Photography

13 Dec

You may find this hard to believe – then again, as you’re reading my blog, you may not – but I LOVE writing our annual Christmas letter. Truly love it.

The Christmas card photo my husband thought we should use this year.


I know that there are people for whom writing an annual letter is worse than going to the dentist. Especially in this day of televisions on the ceiling above the dentist chair and x-rays that don’t threaten the lives of all your unborn children. For me, however, writing our letter is like writing this blog: it’s a chance to visit with you, my friends both old and new, it’s a chance to use my sense of humor which is all too often absent from my conversation but crops up in my writing, and it’s a chance to talk about myself. All good things, in my opinion.

The picture we used last year. Because I gave up.


Notice, however, that I said WRITING my letter is all these good things. I did not say that addressing the envelopes, signing the letters and getting the adorable picture of my children is part of the fun. That part is comparable to the dentist visit. Not the present-day visit, either, but the torturous kind of a few decades ago. But, it must be done so I watch mind-numbing TV and get to work.

Items needed for the job:

1) 176 envelopes, non-lick variety (praise Jesus for such an invention) and security-tinted because I hate seeing through envelopes that aren’t meant to be seen through.

2) Self-sticking stamps (ditto on the praise Jesus above).

3) My address book, which is a scribbled-out-mess-with-tiny-addresses-written-in-the-margins-of-every-single-page-junk-yard.

4) The letters themselves (hopefully with some sort of decoration but often not because I’ve talked too long again and covered both sides of the paper) each signed personally with a hand-written greeting included. (Don’t get me started about photocopied signatures.)

One try a few years back.


Some years I MAKE my cards. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. Or at least for praise. One year, when I had two children and only half a brain, I made ones so complicated that it took 15 steps to complete ONE card. And yes, I made over 150 even back then. It was beautiful: a giant white snowflake on opaque vellum with blue cardstock behind it and tiny sparkling snowflakes surrounding it. I was so sick of them by the time I was done that I didn’t even make one for myself to keep. Hopefully my mother kept hers.

I haven’t been that foolish since. Close. But not quite.

5) The photo.

Oy, vey, the photo.

Grumpy baby. Unhappy mama.


One year it took us four tries – of about 20 shots each try – to get a new one. This is because I am too cheap to go to a real photographer and prefer to torture myself after church each week during the month of November.

So far this year I haven’t even tried yet. I would have last Sunday except that I had the stomach flu like as unto the pain of childbirth. ‘nuf said.

So I have set a new photo-taking goal. I plan to “borrow” the Christmas tree at church as a background and wait until the Christmas pageant to capture the kids in all their angelic and wise-man glory. I’m hoping it will take less than 5 minutes. Even with a digital camera that may be optimism way beyond my usual standards.

"Mmmm...tasty shoe!"


I must say one last thing about my Christmas letters. They are NOT brag sheets about the kids. Yes, my sixth grade son tested at a 12th grade level for math, but why must everyone know that? And really, do they care? Nor do they need to know that my fourth grade daughter earned all sorts of Girl Scout badges or that our four year old is the cutest, smartest, most clever child ever born. I mean, really…

What I write about is living. With a few facts about our family thrown in for leavening.

Kinda like my blog posts.

PS – Stay tuned over the next couple weeks for more examples of my Christmas card photos gone horribly wrong.

The one we used this year. Not exactly professional.

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13 Responses to “Why I Will Never Win the Pulitzer for Photography”

  1. Julie Wellnitz December 13, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Merry Christmas, Gretchen and Family! And, praise Jesus for YOU! 🙂

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 13, 2011 at 9:01 am #

      Oh, Julie! You made my day. 🙂 Thanks for your comment. I am looking forward to the concert tonight! Merry Christmas to you as well!

  2. Minnesota Prairie Roots December 13, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Gretchen, I’m with you on writing the Christmas letter. Love it. The rest of the process, not so much. I send about 80 cards and I thought that was a lot. But 176? Are you nuts?

    As for the photos, I rarely send them. I should given I enjoy photography. But it was such a challenge when the kids were little that I eventually gave up (this was in the days of film cameras). Now the daughters are grown and gone and, well, it’s not possible to get a pic with them and their still-at-home brother.

    I think the photos of your kids are perfect. They are so genuine. And I’d say your youngest appears to possess a sense of humor and a spunky attitude. Love the photos. Yes, indeed.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 13, 2011 at 9:07 am #

      Thanks, Audrey! I look at some of the photos now and think, “Why didn’t I use that one? Who cares that it’s silly?” I know I do a lot – I think my husband would agree with you about me being nuts! I used to have to send out a prayer letter and that got me in the habit, and I hate to ditch anyone – even the people who never send me one. Though, I admit, that it they haven’t sent me one for ten years, THEY’RE OFF MY LIST!!!! Well, most of them, anyway!

  3. Roxanne Hayenga December 13, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Love the photo Gretchen! I,too love writing the letter and have vowed to keep the bragging for personal conversations:) Have a Blessed Christmas and thanks for always making my day on Tuesday mornings!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 13, 2011 at 10:00 am #

      Thanks, Roxanne!! You’re so kind. 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoy it and I really appreciate you saying so. And yes, let’s brag at bookclub…but not on paper! Merry Christmas!

  4. Jenny December 13, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    I disagree Gretchen, I think your photography is very good. Your picture right now at the top of your blog, the one with the red berries, is stunning! And some of the other ones you’ve posted are wonderful. I think you come by it naturally. The writing from Mom and the photography from Dad! Why is it that the youngest gets everything!! Just spoiled rotten!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  5. Gretchen O'Donnell December 13, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Well, thank you! Perhaps it’s just PEOPLE pictures that I can’t master! I do think that there’s a trick to that – a knack – and I don’t have it. But nature…it stands still! And doesn’t make weird faces…

    And as for the youngest remark…it is hard to parent a youngest child!

  6. ceciliag December 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    I have never written a christmas letter, but 157! wow you have lots of friends! i have made chrissie cards though, sometimes! your pics are so sweet! no problem there.. c

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 13, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

      Thanks! I really should have used that shoe-biting one. It is pretty funny. And as for the large numbers….I just can’t help but add new people every year!

  7. hotlyspiced December 17, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    I love, love, love writing my Christmas newsletter too. It’s something I really look forward to. But I don’t send out 176! My list is more like half that. Perhaps I need more friends! I think your photo is adorable. How cute do your 3 look in their costumes!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

      Thank you! I think that my husband thinks I need fewer friends. 🙂 The costumes are fun and I’d never done the card in their costumes before, so…I went with it, imperfect as it is!

  8. Stacey Greely December 17, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    RIGHT NOW, I am absolutely wishing I could produce on paper the mental picture I have from August-of 5 O’Donnell’s rushing out onto the deck en masse to enjoy the sight of the crop duster dive bombing your house. You all looked so delighted, and it was such a fun family photo. ##$(*&—- I could’ve provided your Christmas photo for this year!

    And so I will make a suggestion for next year-abandon the attempt to have them look right at the camera. Catch them from a side angle. Or, give them the job of taking the photo themselves….I bet THAT would net some precious views. Or, let Aunt Stacey take the shots-I’m kind of a magician with kids 😉

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