Russ Batenhorst Annual family photos an exercise in folly


The month of December is one full of generally happy mail. Between Christmas gifts arriving on a daily basis and cards and photos from friends near and far, it’s almost possible to forget about the bills buried at the bottom of the pile. Thankfully this happiness extends into January with “Happy New Year” cards sent by those who got caught up in the holiday hustle and bustle or were waiting for the whole family to pose for a photo at Christmas.

Admittedly, I’ve designed and have been featured on many of these Happy New Year cards. But this year my family did things a little differently.

As we stood in the tall tan grasses surrounded by big trees with changing leaves, we laughed about the last few times we attempted to take a family photo. The whole process was serious exercise, both mental and physical.

We’d all put on nice clothes and head out to a spot usually chosen by my mom. I would set up my camera on the tripod and get my parents lined up. In the mean time, my brothers would find a way to get dirty. They’re 27 and 21 now, but like most guys they seemed to be magnets for mud and grass stains in their younger days.

After finally moving them into the frame of my viewfinder I would push the self timer button and sprint into the photo. Someone would blink and the process would start over. In the next photo someone would end up with bunny ears. Then someone would stick their tongue out. My dad would make his best tough face and forget to smile. Eventually we’d run out of daylight.

We do have a nice photo from my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding last summer, but suits, ties and fancy dresses don’t represent our everyday lives very well.

So this fall we gathered in the park and a friend I met through photography classes in college expertly directed us where to stand, what to do with our arms and when to smile.

A task that usually ended with me feeling frustrated, and our Christmas card getting filled with a collage of the year’s highlights, suddenly seemed so easy. But honestly it still took a lot of planning.

With six schedules to work around, we originally picked a day in early May where everyone’s calendar was open. Unfortunately that day was just plain blustery. There was wind and rain and boring gray skies. I believe the high might have barely broken 50 degrees that Saturday.

We’re not wimps but this was supposed to be a fun day, so we decided to reschedule.

June through August was out of the question as my younger brother moved to New York for a summer job.

When he returned, we picked an October day, and like any Nebraskan who schedules outdoor activities for, well, any month really, we hoped for pleasant weather.

The entire thing was nearly derailed when someone suggested we include our dogs.

Next we faced the overwhelming task of deciding what to wear. We could all agree on the fact that none of us look good in yellow. My mom is happy in anything red, my dad prefers plaid flannel and my younger brother, the former lifeguard, would live with no shirt if that were acceptable.

Color schemes like red and black or blue and orange or white and denim were all tossed around. What followed were days of texting one another photos of shirts. We finally settled on shades of blue. Our goal was to not buy anything, but I ended up with a new shirt. One out of six isn’t bad.

When the day came we successfully avoided wardrobe malfunctions and hair disasters.

The photos show us smiling, laughing, hugging and even spinning on a merry-go-round. After lots of stressing about coordinating, our blue shirts look great.

And the weather was darn near perfect. Maybe this wasn’t so hard after all.

Our cards went out before the holidays. All six of us were smiling. We were even looking in the same direction rather than six different places.

We love the photos, but who knows, next year’s card may be back to brothers in a headlock, at least one pair of bunny ears, the four family dogs and a goofy New Year’s message.



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