I wish I could take credit for this amazing idea, but I can’t. As with most of my best ideas, I blatantly stole it from someone else—in this case, the wife of a college buddy. Several years ago, my friend was turning 40, and his wife did this calendar for him. I was so impressed with the idea, I decided to do the same thing when my wife turned 40… which was, uh, not long ago. (I’ve learned you should never talk about a woman’s age…)
And what is the Countdown Photo-Calendar? Here’s the deal: picture in your mind’s eye a hanging display, made of clear plastic, with 40 transparent pockets for photographs. In each of those pockets is a placard with a number; basically, the whole display looks like a Classic Concentration game board. The last pocket holds number 40, the Day of Reckoning of Person Celebrating Birthday (whom I will henceforth call PCB).
On the first day, which is forty days before PCB’s birthday, PCB pulls back the placard with the number 1 to reveal– a friend or relative! Well, a picture of a friend or relative– not the actual person (unless, of course, your friend happens to be Flat Stanley.)
And somewhere in that picture is a number 1. Maybe that person is holding up a drawing of a number 1, or maybe an ace of spades, or something. (For my college friend’s calendar, I made a made a big “6” out of Legos and took a picture of myself sitting next to it.) Also, included with the picture is a little message from the friend or relative, wishing PCB well.
For every day for the next thirty-nine days, PCB uncovers a new person and a new message. At the end of the process, PCB has a quilt of forty pictures of the people that decorate his/ her life.
The Countdown Photo-Calendar is a great thing to do for That Special Someone, but it’s not something you can just throw together. So I thought I would provide a step-by-step tutorial to guide any interested parties through the process:
(1) Get yourself a calendar—a regular old calendar, with months and weeks and days. Identify your PCB’s birthday and count backward forty days. (Technically, you don’t have to do it for someone’s 40th. I’m saying 40, because it’s a big one and because the photo-holder seems to come with twenty or forty pockets.)
(2) Count back twenty additional days– at the least. After all, you’re going to need to give folks time to prepare. You’re depending on audience participation here; you don’t want to spring this on someone. (“You mean to say that you need to plan this a good sixty days ahead of time?” Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Kind of daunting…)
(3) Make a list of the people you want represented and randomly assign a number to each person. (I say “random,” but you probably want the more responsible people to have the earlier numbers, since they’ll have less time to prepare.)
(4) Rifle through the e-mail contacts of PCB. (As with all great acts of love, this project does require you to be a little devious.)
(5) Send out an initial message to all the folks on your list, using your work e-mail (or else some other email that PCB doesn’t check). In the message, you should explain the concept and what you’re asking of them. Basically, you’ll need two things from each person: (a) a picture of himself/ herself displaying an assigned number; and (b) a “Happy Birthday” message that falls somewhere on the “witty/cute” spectrum.
Make sure you stress that this is a secret and that no one should e-mail PCB or else mention to PCB how awesomely thoughtful you are. Also, stress that anyone who wants to decline most certainly can with no hard feelings– which, naturally, is a lie. (If someone don’t want to participate in an activity as fun as this, you can bet the feelings will be hard– as hard as the stone that resides where his heart should be.)
(6) Send out a second email, in which you list the numbers you assigned to each person AND the date which you must receive it. (See where this gets tricky?) For example, “Agnes, Number 14, Due Date: Nov 11th.” (And why is this going out in a separate email? Basically, so you don’t overwhelm folks. The first e-mail explains the concept; the second e-mail gets into the nitty-gritty details.)
(7) Sit back and wait. Just kidding! There’s no waiting in Countdown Photo-Calendar Creating! You need to order the plastic photo-hanging thingy. Here are two you can order online:
- from Future Memories: Picture Pockets, 80 Photos (http://www.futurememories.com/picture-pockets-80-photos.html?)
- from Thinking Gifts: Thinking Gifts Picture Pockets Photo Hanging Display (http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Gifts-Picture-Pockets-PPMG/dp/B002MPPNJE)
For someone celebrating a 40th birthday, you should order the “80 Photo” version, since only one side will be visible. (Each pocket technically holds two pics, so that’s how they get away with saying “80 Photos.”)
(8) Make the placards, the place-holder cards numbered 1 through 40. These cards don’t have to be super-fancy; on the other hand, they shouldn’t pieces of lined paper torn out of a three-ring binder either. The calendar is a decoration, something that will be in your house for at least forty days, and the placards are an integral part of the presentation. (For my wife’s calendar, I enlisted the aid of my niece, and we made individual mini-collages for each card.)
(9) Check your inbox. Oh, lookee here! Folks have responded! Hopefully, the people responsible for the initial numbers have sent in their pictures and messages. If not, you’ll need to do some gentle nudging. (In fact, you’ll probably find yourself doing a lot of gentle and not-so-gentle nudging throughout the whole process. )
(10) Unveil the calendar to your PCB on the day before day one. (It’s a pretty big display, so you’ll need space to hang the thing. I used those tiny suction cups and hung it up on our sliding glass door.)
(11) Get up a little bit earlier on the morning of Day One and put the #1 picture/message-combo behind the placard. (I tended to do one day at a time, partly because some folks didn’t get the picture to me until the night before, and partly because I know my wife. If I had filled up all 40 pockets on that first day, she would have opened all of them within minutes.)
(12) Repeat Step 11 every morning for the next thirty-nine mornings.
The whole thing a labor of love, for sure—but the love more than makes up for the labor. And the final collage at the end truly is a story, of a life and the people in it.
Of course, you can really only do this once… which means my wife didn’t get a Countdown Photo-Calendar this year. But maybe a Birthday Blog Shout-Out will do. Happy Birthday, sweetie! I love you! You’re the greatest!