The best things in life are free but you can keep them for the birds and bees
'Good things are never for free,' my mum used to say, but it hasn't stopped me from hoping. And she was right . . . until the World-Wide Web came along.
About a year ago, you would have sent and received electronic greeting cards. But now the stream of e-cards has dried up. Click on www.hallmark.com and you realise why. It's free no longer.
It's cheaper to buy an e-card than going into a shop and picking a Hallmark off the shelf, but the two aren't comparable. One is a virtual card that you can't keep on your bureau and read it 10 years later and still be touched by it.
Of course, you can print out an e-card but it's just not the same. What you will get is a neat, perfect little card with the message printed in a clean Times Roman font . . . you rather miss the coffee stains and the illegible scrawl on a good old paper-based Hallmark from your boyfriend.
The biggest plus for e-cards is that you need never be late. Even if you suddenly remember that it's your dad's birthday today after you read this piece, you can go right into any number of sites and send him a fancy virtual card with jangly music and dancing Donald Ducks.
There are sites that charge for the service, but I'm going to ignore them today.
Mum's wrong for once. There are good sites that are still free.
One of the originals and still a site with an excellent selection is Blue Mountain. You'll find it at www1.blue mountain.com/.
At first glance, this is an overwhelming place. You'll find cards for any holiday or occasion that you've ever heard of and some that you haven't. Among them: Tartan Day, Lantern Festival, Seijin-no-hi and the ever-popular Pig Day.
There are the more usual holidays, too, as well as cards you can send for no particular reason.
I was particularly elated to find Lantern Festival e-cards. I sent one to mum.
The site does a good job of walking you through the process of making the card, personalising it with your message, selecting music and sending it. Each time you send a card here, the information about the recipient - name and e-mail address - is saved. That way, if you come back to send that same person another card, you can just select the name from a menu and avoid filling in all those blanks again.
This site works like most of the rest we'll visit today. Once you've selected the 'send' function, your recipient will get an e-mail notification of the card. To view it, he or she will go to a special address on the Web and see the card via a browser.
There are a number of local sites you can send Chinese e-cards from. They are often not as good as the US ones but they are more localised and always free.
The best local site I know is www.hkservice.com/ ecard/index.html. While not in the class of Hallmark or Blue Mountain, it allows you to send e-cards in English and Chinese.
The site http://communi ty.hongkong.com/zh?tw/ ecard/ is very localised. You get Hello Kitty e-stickers and Snoopy graphics - everything that digs a local teenager's interest.
Some of the most elaborate cards on the Web are at Regards.Com at www.re gards.com/. Check out some of the animated cards such as the one with a snowfall.
On this site, you can use your own photograph to create a card. The only qualification to using a photo - and it's a big one - is that you must have your own Web site in which to stash the photo. The electronic card you send then links to that photo on your site.
If nostalgia is your thing, you'll enjoy a place called Wanderer's Nostalgic 50s-60s Card Shop. The themes include old soda fountains and Coke machines, small-town parades, pin-ups (they're G-rated) and the like. You can also add music to your card. You can select from a jukebox list that includes Johnny Be Good, Rock Around the Clock and Shake Rattle and Roll.
You'll find it at www.wander ers.com/wan der/card/.
No matter how long you've been around the Web, or how many cybercards you've sent and received, you probably haven't seen a Moose-O-Gram. These animated cards - found at www.geocit ies.com/SoHo/Coffee house/2804/mooseograms/ newmoose.html - are really fun. You can send a Skunk Love card that will never be forgotten. While wacky, all these cards are in good taste.
If you want to get a little mushy, visit Lovegrams.
com at www.lovegrams.
Some cards are sweetly sophisticated. If you need help, some come with love notes in the form of poetry.