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Address: 19#, Haoxin street, nanchen village, daojiao town, dongguan city. Guangdong province  China.
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Shopping's done; now the hard part

Shopping's done; now the hard part

By Kiran Ansari, Special to the Tribune, and Heidi Stevens, Tribune staff reporter

November 25, 2007

Next to "Happy holidays!" the most frequently heard phrase this time of year might be: "Anything liquid, fragile, perishable or potentially hazardous?"

Answering the question is easy; getting your packages to meet U.S. postal standards can be the challenge.

Q spoke with Tim Ratliff and Mark Reynolds, U.S. Postal Service communications specialists in the Chicago area, for some tips on expediting your holiday shipping.

Order free Express Mail or Priority Mail boxes, which ship for a flat fee anywhere in the country.

- Wrap your gift and place it inside a mailing box rather than wrapping the outer box; gift wrap is usually thin and can get snagged and torn in the shipping process.

- Cover all previous labels and markings -- especially bar codes -- with heavy black marker or adhesive labels if you are reusing a box. The only writing on the box should be the destination and return address.

- Do not use flimsy packaging material such as shoe boxes.

- Do not use alcohol boxes for mailing (the postal service has prohibitions related to shipping alcohol and using boxes labeled alcohol).

- Place cushioning such as newspaper or bubble wrap around your items. Close and shake the box; if you hear items shifting, add more cushioning.

- Tape the opening of your package and reinforce all seams with 2-inch-wide tape. Use clear or brown packaging tape only, rather than masking tape or Scotch tape.

- Send perishables such as freshly baked cookies via Express Mail or Priority Mail.

- Send perfume by surface mail only. It is flammable and therefore dangerous to send by air.

- Package fragile items securely. Remind the postal clerk to put the "fragile" stamp on the box; consider buying insurance for the package.

- Use the ATM-like automated postal center kiosks for up to 80 percent of your postal needs; many locations have 24/7 access and accept debit and credit cards.

- Go to usps.com to buy stamps, look up ZIP code information and arrange to have a carrier pick up your packages for free. Weigh the package, calculate and print postage and have the packages ready before the mailman delivers your mail. There is no minimum number of packages required to take advantage of this service. Depending on the size of the package, you can use a kitchen or bathroom scale or buy one from the USPS Web site.

- Add a little pizazz to your cards and packages with customized postage. In fiscal 2007, about 374 million personalized postage stamps were sold; so consider putting your children or your pet on a stamp this year. Go to usps.com for details.

- Send your packages by Dec. 15 (military and international address cutoff dates are even earlier) if you are sending via parcel post. To ensure that your cards or Priority Mail packages arrive before Dec. 25, mail by Dec. 20. If you are opting for Express Mail, the cutoff date is Dec. 22.

The question now: How many shopping days do you really have?

- - -

Some more ways to show you care

For those who don't have a specific soldier to send holiday mail to, here are a couple of suggestions for honoring U.S. troops and their families during the holidays.

*America Supports You, a program run by the Defense Department, offers detailed instructions for sending messages (electronic and snail mail) as well as frequent-flier miles, phone cards, Christmas stockings and other gifts to the troops. Go to americasupportsyou.mil for more information.

*Walter Reed also recommends donating money to the USO ( http://www.usocares.org ) or Red Cross (redcross.org).

-- Heidi Stevens

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