Memories in the Making

Posted by  | Friday, February 8, 2008  at 10:08 AM  
Hi, all! I've posted once before as a guest author on breastfeeding. Leah asked me to share some of the things we do at our house to make and keep memories as well as some traditions we've started. My kids are almost 4, 2 and 12 months. Over the years I've found some of my good intentions fall by the way side to life in the real world, but some things we've found to be easy to integrate and remember to do.

1) Web Photo Gallery - since my oldest was 8 months old, I have been using Snapfish. I upload all our photos from the previous month at the beginning of a new month (or let's be honest, whenever I get to it.) Although, sometimes I upload 2 times in a month. You can caption the photos. I have found this to be a great way to give family and friends who are not near by a glimpse into our daily lives. I take photos a lot. Some of special events, but most of just everyday life–the cute little things kids do everyday. But I think the money lies in the captioning. Giving a good description of what is going on behind the scenes, not just stating the obvious. For example, "Kate playing" is a waste of time for someone to read when they could probably have figured it out for themselves from the photo. But, "Kate has taken to riding her stick horse around the house, dressed like a princess and yelling 'wee ha!' at the top of her lungs." is much more interesting and shows a lot of her personality as well as what life is like at our house. They're not all that long, but you get the picture. The one to the left just shows how Kate says hammer — "Hamma".

Our far-off friends and family feel like they aren't that far away thanks to Snapfish. Then you and your family can order prints etc. There are other similar sites like Picasa or Kodak Gallery. I find it is not too hard to keep up with, people look forward to it, and I am left with a great record of memories and all the little details you later forget.

2) Baby's First Year Calendar - My friend Barb turned me on to this idea. She gave me a one year baby calendar. You customize the months to start with the month your baby is born. So for example, Kate's started with July and ended with the following July. There are stickers for different milestones like first tooth, first doctor's visit, first Easter, etc. I kept it by our changing table. The idea was to write little comments in the date boxes. Anything from, "Today Liam slept through the night! only 4 weeks old!", to "I just love the way you grin when your daddy comes home." As you can see by the photo I filled in milestones then went back and filled in the blank days with little comments and messages so every day was filled. You don't have to fill in every day, but it is a great way for a busy mom to keep track of important milestones to fill into a baby book later. It is also a great way to record the little things you love about each stage of a baby's first year. It will be great things to look back over and remember their babyhood. I also think it will be a great gift to give back to them when they are expecting their first child. I did calendars for my first two children but have focused on Owen's caringbridge website in lieu of a calendar for him.

3) Memory Journal - I have a little journal that I keep handy to write down funny things my kids say and do. If I don't have my journal with me I write it down on whatever I have handy and stick it in the journal later. My mom did this for my siblings and I, and it has been so much fun to sit and read back over those memories as a family now that we're grown. Great for all those moments you think you'll always remember, but slip by so fast.

I realize ideas 1, 2 & 3 could all be encapsulated in a blog. And I loved the comment I saw on an earlier post about Blurb, where you can turn your blog into a hard-bound book. I think this is a fabulous idea! I just downloaded the software myself yesterday!

4) Birthday Paintings - Each year on or around their birthday, starting at age 1, I have my kids paint a 12x12 canvas. I have them pick 3-5 colors of craft paint. When they are one I poor a few blobs on the canvas and just let them finger paint. Sometimes I given them brushes. They have turned out some great works of art. It will be interesting to see their art develop as they grow. I plan to do one each year until they are 9. Right now the paintings hang above their beds. As you add more you rearrange them. When Liam paints his 4th this year, I will either hang them in a tight square or just make it a row of 4. "What are you going to do with twenty-seven 12x12" paintings 9 years from now?" you ask. Well I think they will be great art for a play room someday—a great way to cover bare basement rec room walls. Now, being an art major I am into this massive kind of modern art. That may not be for you. But doing some kind of art craft every year on their birthday is a fun way to watch your child's creativity grow and develop. Maybe paint a ceramic tile each year, even if only with a hand print. Or buy one of those blank books and let them draw on one page each year.

5) Birthday Message Book - I picked this idea up from my friend Ruth. You purchase a little blank journal for each child. Every birthday you have family and friends write a message to the birthday boy or girl. I usually pass it around at the birthday party. Family that are unable to be there due to distance sometimes send notes to be taped in. Then my husband and I each write a note. The messages are basically what you would write to someone in a card. I usually write what I love most about them at that age. I also always start off by tracing their hand on the page before that year's messages. And another idea... with our second child we actually started the birthday book at her birth. So visitors at the hospital wrote her messages too. I don't always read the messages. They are for the child. I think it will be really neat for them to read back over all the things the people who loved them over the years had to say about them as they grew.

6) Your Own TV Show
- I got this idea out of Family Fun Magazine years ago. Every Christmas Eve Day we turn our living room into a "TV set". My husband is the "host" and the kids are the "guests" while I man the camera (I get a "special appearance" later on). We set up chairs and a "desk " kind of like a late night show. My husband uses a hairbrush for a microphone and interviews the kids. Yes, even before they can talk. He kind of recaps the year, asking about their big accomplishments, favorite things, funny stories etc. We try to get them to demonstrate their new skills like crawling or writing their name. Sometimes we've had them show a piece of favorite artwork or a favorite toy. Obviously it will evolve as the kids get older, but it has been really neat so far. The article suggested the kids add little acts as they get older. We keep a special tape that we only record (for lack of a better name) The Potter Show on. Each year after the taping we go back and watch the previous years. It is a real hoot! We plan to keep this tradition up into their teens and beyond. My "special appearance" is the part of the show when I present them with their special ornaments. (see below)

7) Christmas Ornaments - Each year during The Potter Show we present the kids with an ornament. My husband and I talk about it together and try to come up with something that would represent the past year for each child. Sometimes we've purchased ornaments. Most times, we've made them. For example, when Liam was 2 his two favorite things were Bob the Builder and Puzzles. So I printed a picture of Bob the Builder off the internet, mounted it on cardboard and cut it into the shape of a giant puzzle piece. Every year I look at it, I remember how much he loved Bob and puzzles when he was two. We always write their name and date on the ornaments.

8) Speaking of ornaments... here's a tip: My kids get ornaments as gifts from extended family members every year as well. To keep it all straight I keep a list in the ornament box that we add to as we put them away. Each kid's list is actually on a recycled Christmas card. I just cut the fronts off some nice cards we've recieved and write on the blank side. When we get the ornaments out each year we look on the cards to remind us as we talk about who gave them each one and why. We did something similar when I was young, but somehow my mom actually remembered all that stuff. I need to write it down.

9) Nights Out - This is something my parents did with myself and my 3 siblings and that we plan to do with our kids. To ensure each of us four kids had time set aside to do something special with each parent individually they set up the night out system. There were 4 kids. Each of us ideally had 3 "nights out" per year—one with just mom, one with just dad, and one with both parents (no sibs!). We rotated through. So for example: I would go out with just mom in January, just dad in May, and both mom and dad in September. My brother: dad in Feb, both in June and mom in Oct.... Since there are 12 months in a year, this system worked perfectly for our family.

They didn't start instituting nights out until I was in elementary school and my youngest sibling was 2. We did it all through high school. Looking back, those are some of my fondest memories with my parents. We did lots of things as a family, but there was something special about having mom and dad all to yourself for a little bit. The kid always got to choose the activity. A lot of times it was something one of us wanted to do but was something that was too cost prohibitive for the whole family to tag along. We got to do lots of special one-time things this way. Something as simple as going to a movie AND getting popcorn, to going horseback riding, ice skating, learning to shoot, or—for my little sister—Chuck-E-Cheese. While the experiences were fun, I see now why my parents put so much effort into doing nights out.... the conversations, the time, the memories, the priceless opportunities. My husband and I totally plan on setting some similar schedule one day. Right now we try to make sure we spend special time one on one with the kids, but it is easy to let time slip by. the great thing about date nights was it was "scheduled" and purposeful. I know there were months there weren't nights out. I am sure we had "make-ups" and pushed the schedule back. Or family activities filled the month. But that didn't stop my parents from sitting down each year and mapping out a plan. Flexibility was key. Hopefully we can be so intentional.

10) Movable Growth Chart -
I also got this idea from my friend Barb. She had a long board that she hung up and used as a growth chart as apposed to marking the kids' heights on a door frame. The beauty of this is, if you move, you can take it with you. You could have a cloth or paper chart as well. But I really liked the idea of marking it on something solid. I bought a 1x4 board and cut it to 5 ft long. (You can have that done at the store if you want.) I painted it white and distressed it with sandpaper. I glued a flexible measuring tape to the board and added some embellishments I picked up in the scrapbooking section. Ours says, "Here we Grow". Then all you do is hang it so the measurements are the appropriate height from the floor. We really securely mounted ours due to it's high-traffic location, but you wouldn't have to. A simple nail would do. I actually record the kids' heights starting at 6 months based on their measurements at the doctor's office. It makes for an interesting way to compare their sizes at the same age. For example: my daughter was the exact height at age 2 that my oldest son was at age 1. The exact height! So far our third has been falling right in the middle of the other two.

I think for me the big thing is to do thing I enjoy doing. If it becomes a chore, it is not really worth it. I choose to do only the things I feel are important, keeping in mind what tangible things I'll want 18 years from now and beyond to help me remember these precious fleeting years. I don't alway keep up with everything. Like I didn't actually write in my memory journal for like 10 months. But that doesn't mean I want to give it up. No matter how few things I write, I'll still have details from that many more stories of when they were young than I would have if I had quit.

You can also tell I like to use annual events to trigger me to do these things. Like every birthday I remember it's time to paint, get out their birthday journal and mark their height on the growth chart. Or I try to do snapfish the beginning of the month. If I miss a month I just do the current month. Then if I have time I go back and do the previous month. I don't let myself feel like I've gotten so behind that I can never catch up. I just "jump back on the horse." I have found giving myself those little triggers and not sweating it if I forget, have helped me sustain my memory-keeping intentions through the years.


Leah said...

Oh, Jen - this is EXACTLY why I asked you to post this week! It's not just that I love all the fun things you do with your kids, but I love all the thought that goes into each activity. You and Eric do such a good job with your kids, and I'm so thankful for all the great ideas. I LOVE, LOVE the TV Show idea - so cute! And I had forgotten about the idea of keeping a Memory Book with funny things our kids have said or done. And, I had forgotten about Ruth's Birthday Journals too - I will definitely have to start that now too! Thanks for posting!

Rachael Davis said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! My absolute favorite is the 12x12 birthday art, and I am NOT an art teacher. :) I am so sad that she's 18 months and we haven't done a birthday journal or a memory book yet. I wonder if it's too late to catch up??

We use a floor-length mirror to do our growth chart - I can't wait to have some more babies to compare their heights. I hadn't even thought of that.

Thanks for taking the time to share your wonderful ideas!

Jen said...


What about doing a painting on the even years? That would solve the problem of having so many paintings, plus the difference between the pieces would be more noticeable.

I'd just start the birthday book for her next birthday. For Kate's 1st birthday we were traveling (her birthday is over the 4th) and I forgot to take her notebook with us. So she only has notes from Eric and I that year. I always say, "something is better than nothing." Don't sweat it.

I love the mirror idea. What do you write on it with? Paint? I like that it would be interactive for the kids. That they could see themselves as they measure up.


I realized later that I only focused on the more yearly traditions we do than the daily and weekly. Oh, well. Thanks for letting me post. It was a lot of fun to think through that stuff again.


Shannon said...

Wow, those are some really great ideas that I've never thought of or heard about - I love it.

I love the birthday art idea, and the Christmas tv-show to re-cap the year. And I really like the night out idea.

I'm so glad Leah asked you to post. Thanks!

Rachael Davis said...


I used paint pens to mark out the ruler on the left side of the mirror, and to mark her height. We have it hanging near some of her toys, and she talks to herself while looking in it.

Hooray! Paintings on even numbered years - I love it! Thanks for yet another wonderful idea. And I vote that you post again with your daily/weekly traditions.

Krista said...

I, too, would love to hear you post on your daily/weekly traditions with your family! Thanks for all your GREAT suggestions.


Jen said...

I finally posted some everyday memory making ideas. enjoy.


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