Tips on Creating a Family Yearbook or Printing Your Blog
If you have a short attention span, you can skip down to tips on what services you can use to do your family yearbook and how to print your blog. But you really should read it all. Don’t hurt my feelings. I totally spill my guts in this post.
When we adopted our son, his birthmother gave me the greatest gifts possible—the opportunity to be a mother and the chance to parent this wonderful little spirit. But she also gave me another gift that I wasn’t expecting. That first year I made the goal to write her every week about all his milestones and adventures. At the end of that year I had the most wonderful chronicle of his first year and I had developed the habit of journaling every week.
We are no longer in touch with his birthmother, but six years later the habit still remains. I have never missed a week. Every week I sit down and write about all the wonderful things my children have said and done. I then lay it out with photos from the week before I email it off to family members. At the end of the year I compile it all into a family yearbook and have it printed as a hardcover book. It has become one of my biggest blessings and most treasured items.
These aren’t just photo books and they are definitely not little. Each weighs in at about 350 pages and contains a heavy mix of photos and writing. Every week I write about 2-3 pages. I sit down and I just can’t stop. I keep thinking of more and more things that I just HAVE to include.
Someday when I am old and my kids are gone, I am going to sit down and just gobble up these family yearbooks as I relive these wonderful years. I am going to laugh and laugh and laugh. It is like I am stocking up for the drought that I know is coming.
It has also given me a wonderful sense of perspective. Every week I get to sit down and contemplate the week. I see the beautiful things that have happened more clearly and I am able to put the frustrating moments into perspective. As I write my blessings become more obvious and I learn to live a more well thought through life.
For my extended family, the pages I create bind us together. I send it off to grandparents, parents, siblings, and even my beloved great aunt and kindred spirit. I have found that our grandparents, even though they live far away, have been able to get to know our kids in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t have. As a result we all feel more like family and less like strangers.
For my kids it is an important part of their history. I know that they are going to have a lot of questions and many of them I will not be able to answer. But I will have preserved as much as I can for them. Where they may have holes, they will also have more information about their early lives than most human beings. My husband teases me and says that if one of them ever becomes president, their biographers will thank me.
But most of all it stands as a testament of my love. In the inside cover of the most recent family yearbook I have written the following.
“In many ways this book is a love letter to my children. So that one day they can go back and read about how much this time with them has meant to me. Like any treasure, I have worked to preserve all these memories here.”
I love them so much and if they ever wonder about whether they are loved or wanted, they will see it clearly in the words that I have left for them.
On a side note, their birthmothers have also left them with the greatest testament of their love. Instead of choosing abortion, these women carried my children for nine months and then gave birth to them. I have never experienced this, but from watching others I believe it is one of the biggest sacrifices a woman can make. And then they had the courage and love to find their forever families. A woman who did not care would have never done this. I honor them everyday for their choices, love, and sacrifices.
But regardless of how you have formed your family, I think a family yearbook can be a huge blessing. Over the years I have learned some things that have made the books more meaningful. Here are a few of my tips:
Accentuate the Positive
This is a family yearbook, not a chance to preserve pity parties. Writing our troubles down often helps us feel better, but I like to try to keep this particular journal upbeat. This doesn’t mean that I put on a false front or don’t talk about the hard times, but it does mean that I don’t dwell on them. For example when I first started I noticed that I spent a lot of time complaining about how busy my work was. I eventually realized that when I read back through it, I really didn’t need to read yet another post about being busy. I would much rather read about the wonderful stuff that was happening.
So I made the goal not to write about work as much. And I noticed a surprising side effect; I stopped focusing as much on being too busy in my day-to-day life. As I turned my focus from the negative in the journal, I became less negative in life. I now use my journaling time as a time to focus on the wonderful things in my life. It really helps me keep perspective and sets the tone for the rest of the week.
I am a strong believer in the power of stories. I think that is one reason why the scriptures are mostly told as a history and that Christ taught in parables. As humans we respond to stories on a deeper level and we learn more from them than a lecture. My family yearbook will teach my children things about their lives, so I am careful about the lessons I teach.
A good example of this is a book I made for my kids when they were very young. When my daughter was born, my son was just two and had a lot to learn about how to treat babies. So I pulled together photos of him feeding her, treating her gently, and sharing toys. I put it together in a book that I pulled out whenever their relationship got a little rocky. I noticed that after reading the book, their relationship improved. It brought back good memories and feelings of love. It told a story of a loving relationship and that story helped shaped and mold the growth of their relationship.
Make a Set Time
For me, I journal every Sunday night and there is very little that I allow to interrupt this time. If you don’t have a set time that you treat as sacred, you will have a very hard time staying consistent.
Just Write Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
Like exercise, writing is work. But once you get started it gets easier and it becomes rewarding. Often I have had to make myself sit down and get started, to only later find that I can’t stop writing down just one more thing.
It is easy to forget things during the week, so I have created the habit of posting cute things the kids do on my Facebook wall as it happens. Then on Sunday, I just have to review my wall. I have also sent myself emails or left post-its. You may think that you won’t forget the cute thing your daughter said, but you will. Write it down!
Don’t Go Overboard
Don’t feel like you have to write a novel. Write as much as you can comfortably keep up. Even a little is better than nothing. Don’t beat yourself up over how well you write or how bad your grammar is. That is not the point of this journal. It is to preserve memories. Don’t get discouraged by focusing on other less important things.
As for design, I have kept to a very simple layout. I didn’t want to spend a ton of time on the design. I prefer to use my time capturing memories. Plus the simpler it is the less likely it is to go out of style. Let’s be honest, those scrapbook layouts you did just ten years ago already look pretty dated.
Save Everything That You Want to Keep
Over the years I have started to use the family yearbook as a way to preserve things like artwork and certificates. So often they get tattered, faded, and misplaced. So every year I pick out my favorites and include them in the artwork section in the back. I also include a photo of our Christmas card and our traditional family timeline. It is a great way to preserve things without the clutter.
Don’t Be Stupid
If you share the family yearbook with others, remember those who may be reading it. You don’t want to accidentally complain about your Aunt Fanny only to find out she later read all about it.
Invest in a System That Works For You
Printing a family yearbook can get time consuming, so you want to find a system that streamlines things for you as much as possible.
At first I used a blog and then used blurb.com to suck the blog content into a book. I picked blurb.com because it was the only book printing company that I could find that did a good job of publishing your blog. It “slurps” all your content and photos over and then you can make any changes you want. It was really easy to use even when I was doing books over 300 pages. Some online book printers won’t even let you print that many pages. If you don’t have much access to publishing software, this is a great way to do it.
I made the blog private because there are plenty of creeps out there and you don’t want too much personal information out there. I used blogger.com and was able to do it for free. I then just invited family. Every week I would post to the blog and then just slurp the stuff over at the end of the year. This method also has the added benefit of archiving all your writing and photos in a remote location. If your house ever burns down or your computer crashes, this is a very, very, very, very good thing.
But after a couple of years I was spending more time tweaking with the layout than I wanted to. When blurb.com pulls in your photos, they are placed next to your text from that post and are pretty small. I had to go through and make them larger for each post. I decided that it was silly for me to put the book into two formats instead of just one. So I started to use Adobe InDesign because I use it a lot for work. Luckily blurb.com also has templates and a book builder plug-in for InDesign that is really, really easy to use. It takes a lot of the guess work out of whether or not the sizing of your pages is right.
Every week I layout a few pages with text and images and then save those pages as a pdf. I then email it out to family members. This allows me to back up my work remotely instead of doing it on the blog. At the end of the year I just have to submit a final pdf of the book. I don’t have to do any final formatting anymore because I have done it throughout the year.
Doing it this way also allows me to create a pdf that I can send to others or have printed somewhere else if I need to. A lot of the online bookmakers don’t allow you to make a digital copy or transfer it to a different printer. Which means if you want to print another copy ten years from now, you will probably be out of luck.
But if you use Blurb’s blog method, even though you are using an online bookmaker, I believe that Blurb lets you buy a digital version for a few dollars.
I have also used prestophoto.com because they will also print from a pdf and their prices are really good. But the quality isn’t nearly as good as Blurb’s and I don’t like the workflow as much.
Companies like Shutterfly and Snapfish do a great job with smaller books and I print a lot of my children’s books that I write with them. But on bigger books they don’t do as well. And I didn’t like that I couldn’t take the work with me. I probably spend over 100 hours a year working on this thing, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t all tied into one company.
I have found that going digital is much cheaper than scrapbooking and has the added benefit of being able to print multiple copies. Plus I have a confession to make, I CAN’T STAND scrapbooking. Cutting photos and paper into different shapes drives me crazy. Totally nuts. Really. I am not exaggerating.
Family yearbooks are also a great way to get your photos off your computer. Computers die everyday and I would hate to have all my memories die with it.