The Holiday Letter
I've never been much for holiday letters. You know the ones...they tell you
that Aunt Bessie had surgery this year, how big the kids are growing and about
that new job Dan got. At least that's what I used to think they were
Then I met Daryl Lucas. Back in the mid-90s, when I was begging for help on
the Internet, trying to learn programming, Daryl was a knight in shining armour.
He would appear online, at the end of the day, and provide answers that made
sense of all the nonsense code I'd been fighting that day. He became my mentor
and taught me how it was done.
But Daryl has another talent...he is a writer; the likes of which Erma Bombeck
would have been proud. The first time I received a holiday letter from him,
I couldn't help thinking "Folk still write these stupid things?"
Then I started reading his. Soon, tears were rolling down my face. Not
from reading about devastating events he, his wife and three boys had had to
endure that year...but from laughter! Daryl's holiday letters were a riot...touching,
as he provided insight to life as dad to three young boys...but also a laugh
Daryl has a wonderful way of turning the most trying family events...into stories
you can't stop reading. Rather than hearing about how Jacob fell and broke his
arm that year, we heard tales of adventure. How the little hero, who, dressed
in his tablecloth cape and aluminum foil helmet, lep from the picnic table...trusty
paper towel roll sword in hand...in his attempts to save the world from evil.
And subsequently flew into the ground...breaking his arm.
So to all the Daryl's of the world who actually write entertaining
holiday update letters...this article is dedicated to you. And to those of you
who plague your relations with boring recounts of Aunt Bessie...here's hoping
you become a little more creative this year!
I can't help you with your creative writing attempts...but maybe I can provide
you with a few ideas that will at least make the letter look good.
Creating Stationery with Word
Microsoft Word comes with some page borders that can easily help you add a
little festive look to your page.
Open a blank page in Word. Then click Format > Borders and Shading
> Page Borders. In that dialog box, you'll notice a drop down
at the bottom entitled Art. Click it and you'll see designs
that you can add to your page with a click.
Once you've added a border to your page, you can use the border buttons around
the preview image in this dialog to deselect the application of the design from
any side of your page, if desired.
Maybe you just want the border to appear at the top and bottom of your page?
If so, turn off the side borders, as shown below.
You may discover that your margins require a little adjustment to get them
right. As you can see in the image below, if I start typing at the top of the
page, I'm typing over the top border art. You can click File > Page
Setup > Margins and make your changes.
However, here's a trick for setting margins, faster. If you move your cursor
so that it's positioned exactly over the margin ruler at the top left,
you can click and drag the margin down to a setting you prefer. Plus,
even cooler, if you hold down both mouse buttons as you drag (which
can be a dexterity trick in itself!) you can see the measurements you're
setting. Look closely at the image below and you'll notice that I've not only
pulled the margin down, but I can see that I've pulled it down about 1".
Adding Your Own Borders as a Watermark
The border designs that come with Word are nice, but with access to the Internet,
you can find a lot more images that can work for you, too. Although, as far
as I know, there's no way to add a custom design to the border art menu, you
can add your custom design to your page, using any of a few different techniques.
There are tons of wonderful page borders for every event on the web. However,
the majority of them are just small, single images. This is because they are
created for web pages. If you have a web page and insert a single image, it
will default to repeat itself down the length of the page. So one small
segment of holly leaves will end up being a holly border that goes down the
side of a web page.
If you find a graphic you like on the Internet, you can do something
similar with it in Word, you'll just need to work a little harder and have PowerPoint
or some other graphic program. Of course, if the graphic you find will already
fill the page, you're that much further along.
To use a small graphic, open PowerPoint (or your favorite graphics program).
As you can see below, I'm adding several instances of the image and lining them
up. I can then take a snap shot of that larger image to use in my Word document.
A tip for lining up graphics: most graphics will adhere to an invisible grid
on the page. But you can temporarily stop that snap grid by holding down the
Alt key as you move your graphic. This will allow you to slip
the graphic into the exact spot you need.
You'll also want to click File > Page Setup, in PowerPoint,
and change the landscape slide to portrait so you can get a longer
page to fill with your image.
After copying (Ctrl + C) and pasting (Ctrl + V)
additional smaller images along the page, I hit the slide show button to see
a full page. Although you can then click your Print Screen
button to capture the entire screen, you'll get more than you need. So you'll
have to cut out the portion you want by using Windows Paint
or some other graphic modification program.
If you have a screen capture program that allows you to select just the part
of the screen you want to capture, such as my favorite (inexpensive) screen
capture program, SnagIt,
you can easily capture the length of the new, longer image.
Now that you've designed up the image you want, it's simply a matter of placing
it into Word's lower layer of your document by clicking View
> Headers and Footers. This will open the underlying layer of the
document. Click Insert > Picture > From File and ferret
around your hard drive to find where you saved that screen shot of your border.
After placing the image in the Header area, you'll need to
adjust the wrapping so the image stays behind the text. This is the
same process you'd use to create a watermark. So if you're using Word
2002 or higher, you can just use the Watermark feature on the Picture
toolbar. If you don't know how to set a watermark and need help, hit the F1
Help key in Word and enter WATERMARK to find directions.
As you can see in the image below, while using Word 2000, I've inserted my
new, longer image into the header and I'm setting the wrapping to Behind
When I close the Header area, by clicking Close
on the Header/Footer toolbar, the image will appear faded on
the page. However, click File > Print Preview to see the
real display. As you will see, the image will print as dark as the
original. If you did want the image to appear slightly faded in the printout,
you'll need to go back into the Header, select the image and adjust it by either
making the image lighter or by selecting the Watermark
display setting on the Picture Toolbar, as shown below.
Again, you'll have to make some adjustments in your margin settings so the
text doesn't overlap the image. You can use your quick margin trick (mentioned
above) to drag down the top margin. However, for setting the left margin, you'll
want to grab the Indent indicator on the top margin bar and
drag that in a bit to set an indent for the text. If you drag the margin itself,
you'll move the image, too, as you can see below. Alternatively, you can click
Format > Paragraphs and set the Left Indent
for the measurement you require.
Adding Your Own Borders with a Textbox
If you prefer not to mess with headers and watermarks (can't blame you), you
have an option. You can use a Textbox.
On the Drawing Toolbar, which you can access through View
> Toolbars > Drawing, you'll find the Textbox
icon. Draw out a box the size of your page. You can then drop in the photo you
want as your backdrop and use the Lighter icon on the Picture
Toolbar to fade the image, as you can see below.
Draw another Textbox on top of the original one. Right click this
new Textbox and choose Format. Set the Fill
and Line settings to No Fill and No
You can then type in the top Textbox and the image will show through from the
box below, as you can see in the next illustration.
If you have a photo that you've faded out with another graphics program, you
can add it to the Textbox as a background, rather than by inserting
it into the Textbox itself.
To do this, draw out a Textbox on the page, right click it and select Format.
On the Picture tab, click Select Picture and
go find your image on your hard drive.
Your photo will become the background for the Textbox and you can type within
the box normally, as I've done below.
And know that you can also add one of the fun AutoShapes
into your letter and then use the same technique to add a photo into that AutoShape.
You'll find AutoShapes on your Drawing Toolbar. After drawing
one and, rotating it if necessary, right click it and choose Format
and add a photo into the Fill option, as you did to
add the original background in your Textbox. You can even toss on a Shadow
effect, which is also found on the Drawing Toolbar, that'll
make the added photo jump from the page!
This trick is a great way to personalize a letter by adding fun photos to your
page, as you can see below.
Okay, so maybe your prose won't be the most engaging this year—at least
your letter will look dazzling!
Psst...and to add some dazzle to your envelopes and packages, be sure to check
out my Holiday
Labels article from last year!
Need further help getting your complex Word docs formatted? Join our free
Word Doc Design support group! See this link for details: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Word_DocDesign/ .