Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

As a gift to the public domain…

After three years of doing this, our e-Christmas Card has become sort of a tradition many of our people have come to expect.

I’ve always loved receiving people’s Holiday cards and letters telling us about their year. When we got married, Joey wanted us to join the tradition, but I’ve never thought I’m a very good writer, and I never have people’s most current address at hand. So when I decided to join the tradition of the Christmas card, I thought I’d do it in my own way.

I pick several photos taken during the year that is about to end, and put them together in a slideshow. Joey and I write some captions for each photo, and in the end we have sort of our annual story, which we share online with all of our friends and family. I send out a graphic email introducing and linking to the “e-card”. Now, here’s the special thing: Everyone gets their own email (no mass email), and the last photo in the slideshow always includes a personal greeting for the corresponding recipient. So in the end, it is as if I had written cards for everyone, but instead of writing just a few lines, I get to tell a longer (hopefully interesting) little story, and I do it with images, which as we know, speak better than words. As a bonus, I don’t have to spend natural resources and money on cards and postage, I don’t have to keep up with everyone’s changing address, people get the card in a flash, and then I get to enjoy tons of thank you emails in reaction to our card.

So why do you care about this?… Well, it turns out that people like our card so much, I thought I’d give away my most recent template to the public domain, so you can do the same thing. You can wow your people, and receive all those great thank you emails from friends that never write. If this doesn’t interest you, maybe you can use the template for other purposes, like share a photo gallery for whatever reason… Maybe you’re selling your house and want to stir some interest. Anything.

In previous years, I used Flash and an XML database for the slideshow; I really wanted fading transitions between photos. But last year I decided to ditch the fading effect and went with PHP, HTML and CSS. Technically simpler, yet much more powerful for my purposes. That’s the template I’m giving out: A nicely (yet simply) formatted php page in which you build a very simple text database for all your photos and your recipients. The single page reads a few dynamic parameters from the url and lets viewers navigate linearly through all of your photos and words. No need to create pages for each photo. No need to link all those pages… If you’re familiar with CSS you can customize the design as you wish. If you know PHP, you can add features, like multiple languages, which I personally do for my Colombian friends and family, just didn’t want to overwhelm you with complexity.

I’ve included documentation (readme.pdf) so you know how to use the template. However, I must warn you: I don’t explain PHP, HTML, or CSS. A basic familiarity with these is helpful so you won’t get into trouble. But you don’t really need to know how to code these things. Just make sure that you don’t skip ; characters at the end of the php statements, and you don’t include or remove quotation marks that could bug the PHP code. A total novice may find this intimidating, but if there’s a hint of geekiness in you, you can totally pull it off.

The final product looks like this

Like it?… Think you may want to to try?… Go ahead and download the template, and let me know if something is not clear. I’m a still relatively new mom, so my brain works a little different (i.e. worse) than it did back in the glory days.


  1. On , Petie wrote:

    Awesome!!! Big smiles from Chris and Petie. Now I have no excuse… must find good pics. Yay, thank you.

  2. On , Chris wrote:

    This part of the public domain (Petie and I) thank you!! I’ll take a look at the template and let you know how it’s going :)

  3. On , Chris wrote:

    I came back to say that I’ve installed the base code and will start making the edits, picking pictures, etc….thanks again :-)

    THEN, I see that Petie and I commented at almost the exact same time while I was at work and she was at home…scary.