Shop Differently: Give the Story of Your Year

Yes, Christmas is over, but I saved this “Shop Differently” post until January for a reason: if we’re going to do this for Christmas 2012, we have to start now. So here’s my pitch for why this is a very good Christmas gift. In fact, I think this might the absolute best Christmas gift. That’s just my opinion and you’re free to disagree. For the past three years, I have created a book titled “The Tresch Family in 20xx.” I upload photos to my bookmaking software of choice (Apple’s iPhoto) and I put together a hardcover book that chronicles our year. Then I wrap the book, and give it to the other four people in my family. Many of you are way ahead of me and have been doing this for a long time and I admire you. I’m usually late to the game anyway, but I’m going to justify my reasons (and maybe yours) for why this is such an important gift and then tell you step-by-step how I do it. I’m still improving my process, so this is not the way to do it. It’s just my way, for now.

Even if you think you have an excuse to stop reading at this point, you don’t. Most everyone owns a camera, even if it’s just on your phone. If you don’t, you can get a point and shoot camera for under $100 and you should do that. Save up for it if you have to, but buy a camera. Life is short and beautiful, and you do NOT have a photographic memory. I do understand the technology excuse, but the websites that provide bookmaking are user-friendly and you are fairly comfortable with technology because you are reading this blog. And the time excuse? Good news: you’re starting early (like…now), so you have all year to assemble your book. Okay, enough said. We’ve swept away the reasons not to do it, so here is one very good reason why we should do it:

Because we are forgetful folks.

You, me, and what’s his name have a hard time remembering people, places, events, moments, joys, sorrows, and everything that whizzes past us in our hurried, harried lives. At the end of the year, we look back and much of what we see is a blur. A few people and events will stand out, but too much of it is compressed, fuzzy, and then forgotten. I love this quote by Alex Tizon: “Stories give shape to experience and allow us to go through life unblind. Without them, everything that happens would float around, undifferentiated.” Storytelling is wired deeply in our DNA. Even the most primitive cultures have ways to pass down the tribal stories either through song, chants, logograms, orality. Stories are essential because, as Tizon says, they keep everything from “floating around.”

When my family unwraps the book each Christmas I would like to report that they fight over who gets to look through it first, but they don’t. Kyle, because he is a smart husband, makes over it and turns every page. The kids don’t. They smile and look over his shoulder at it for exactly .2 seconds. And this is fine with me because I know what will happen. A few months later, I’ll walk into the den and Alison will be sitting on the floor with the books spread out around her, flipping through pages and studying photos and words of a story that could have been too easily forgotten. And I’m reminded why this is the very best Christmas gift. The stories are giving shape to the moments that make up our lives. “Events pass, people live and die, life changes. But stories endure,” says the writer Jacqui Banaszynski.

Now it’s January and I have created a file on my computer desktop titled “Photos 2012.” Every photo that I take this year will be placed in this folder. Speaking of photos, I’ve promised myself that I will do a better job of taking them. I’ve been known to carry my camera in my bag when I’m heading out to an event, or set it on the kitchen counter before a family party and then completely forget to use it. Shameful. And I carry a notebook in my bag with the purpose of journaling during special events or random moments. If I take a photo, my intention is to write something about it. Truth-telling time: I rarely do this. In fact, I almost never do it. But it sounds like a good idea, and sometimes I just go with that. Maybe someday.

As the year progresses, I set up my book on iPhoto. Because I use the software that is already loaded on my computer, it saves automatically and I can come back and work on it whenever I have a spare moment. I plug in the photos as I go for each month and write a little bit about them so I don’t forget (because the journal thing hasn’t worked out). If you want to include the entire year in your book and not leave out stories of the holidays, you can make this a late Christmas or New Year’s gift. I’ve done it both ways and I prefer giving it as a Christmas gift. I just include Christmas from the previous year. There are no rules.

In addition to iPhoto, I have also created photo books on Snapfish and Shutterfly. Even Sam’s Club offers photo bookmaking. Depending on which company you choose and how many pages you create, the cost is between $30-$150. My Apple books are around $70 for 45 pages. It’s money well spent. I’m certain that at this point the books mean more to me than they do to the rest of my family. They are a way to grab some of life’s moments and bring the tribe’s stories into focus so they don’t simply float around until they are forgotten. I’ve given these stories to my family and this feels right. It’s money well spent and a way – at any time of year – to shop differently.

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