So you don't scrapbook. You don't have to. With just a little effort, you can still keep a good grip on your family memories — and get the whole family involved.
Consider the family diary. It's not a scrapbook. And it's definitely not a diary in the traditional "Dear Diary . . ." sense. Instead, a family diary can be an ongoing project, a place for both kids and parents to mark the moment, whether it's with ballpoint blue or glue and glitter.
It's a catch-all for stray thoughts and sweet moments, scribbled notes and silly sketches.
It's a way to record family life the way it really is — the day-to-day, not just the special occasions.
You can begin now or wait until summer vacation to gather up the kids and start a new family tradition.
Here are tips for getting started.
Get a book that's big enough. You'll want something that can hold big art projects and big ideas. We found a hardback spiral sketchbook for less than $10 and personalized the cover; at craft stores, you'll find spiral memory books with acid-free pages. Just don't get anything so fancy or expensive that you hesitate to use it.
Make it accessible. Keep it in the kitchen — or anyplace the family tends to gather. Keep pens and markers handy, along with glue and any other supplies you and the kids might use. Make it easy to pull out the book while dinner's in the oven or you're having a late Saturday breakfast.
Use it every day. Of course you want to remember birthdays and holidays, graduations and volleyball championships. But in 20 years, it'll be precious to open a messy book and remember the way life really was on an average Tuesday.
Make it fun. Don't set up complicated rules. And don't be afraid to make a mess. It's okay if the kids get glitter all over the pages . . . and tape sequins to their report cards. Don't worry if thick art projects strain (or crack) the book's spine. The pages don't have to look perfect.
Don't worry about content, either. Let the kids write what they want to. It's okay if they write about the fact that you wouldn't let them have cookies at the grocery store. Or if, after a trip, they write more about the hotel pool than the Grand Canyon. Let them record what's important to them, and you can all laugh about it later.
Now, you've got the idea of what goes in there. But do you need some inspiration? Try these ideas:
• Have everybody draw a portrait of another family member.
• If you go to a special restaurant, paste in the business card and ask your kids to write what they ordered.
• Come up with topics and let them fill in the blanks: "What's your favorite song this month?" "Name three things you want to do this weekend." "Who should win the election?"
• Keep track of the funny things people say. When your kid says something hilarious — whether it's intentional or not — scribble it in the diary and note the date.
• Don't save them for the scrapbook: Stash those old party invitations here. If you can add a little note ("Rachel ate four cupcakes before anybody could stop her"), you'll remember even more.
• Record each child's height at least twice a year.
• Have a family haiku-writing contest.
• If the blank page is intimidating, cut up magazines and make a collage.
• Are there magazine or newspaper articles you're saving? Stick 'em in the diary. You'll be able to find them later — and you'll remember what was important or interesting to you.
• If all else fails, make a list: Where To Go on Vacation. Books We've Read This Year. Favorite Movies of All Time. Top Five Family Memories.
• Leave each other notes in the diary, little surprises to find in the pages. The possibility of "getting mail" will inspire your kids to open the book more often. And for years to come, you'll have a snapshot of the things you thought about and talked about with each other.
Take it online
Maybe a diary in the kitchen won't work for you — you've got a kid in college in another town, or grandparents halfway across the country. So skip the book and turn that diary into a family blog, where you can each post updates, share pictures and keep up a long-distance chat thread.
• Join any blogging service (some accounts are free; others offer more options and start at about $50 per year). Check out www.typepad.com, www.wordpress.com or www.blogger.com.
• Don't want the world to see it? Set your blog to private and allow only family members to view it and participate.
• Or choose a site that's designed to help families keep in touch. Here are two:
www.gotfamiliesonline.com: The password-protected site gives family members a private place to post photos, write updates and chat through message boards. It's free if you don't mind Google ads on your site; upgrade is $9.95 per month or $59.95 per year.
www.myfamily.com: This site allows family members to share photos, videos, updates, recipes and chats. A basic version is free; upgraded version is $29.95 per year.