Monday, December 27, 2010

Family newsletter provides a record of life's big and small moments

Milestones such as a grandchild's birth share space in a monthly newsletter with less momentous events.

Simply Living
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel December 26, 2010)

Year-end letters: Some people love receiving them. Others find them boring, overdone or annoying.

I'm in the "love 'em" camp. Every time I get a newsletter from a faraway friend, I feel like I've received a gift. I enjoy reading about what folks have been up to for the past 12 months, and I pore over any included pictures.

I like newsletters so much that I write my own, but I've tweaked the concept a bit. Instead of sending out a yearly missive, I pen a monthly review. I've been doing it since 1997, and although my mailing list has expanded over the past 13 years, the reason I compose the letters remains the same. I write to have a record of our family's life. It's a way to remember.

Without some sort of recordkeeping, dates and details of noteworthy events blur or even fade away. To prevent that from happening, I make the time to preserve moments. Every month I sit down at my computer and let my mind drift back through the past 30 days. It's a chance for reflection, introspection and summation.

On a monthly basis, I consider my life: What did we do this month? Did we have fun? Were there problems? I seek out a theme.

Every month, at least one feature predominates. It could be as special as the birth of a grandchild or as mundane as an overwhelmingly busy schedule. Whatever that theme is, I elaborate on it, then flesh out the newsletter with bits and pieces about unrelated topics. Which flowers were blooming? What fruits and vegetables did we harvest? Did we take any trips? Were there any interesting wildlife sightings, good books read or friends who visited?

I'm not the only one involved in this project. Over the years, my children and their spouses have found themselves drawn in. When the kids were little, I did it all myself. I'd ask them what they wanted me to say and paraphrased their comments to include in the review. As they got older, that extra step seemed unnecessary.

I felt the newsletter would be better for everyone if the children, who were no longer little kids, took a more active role. That's what we do now. Each of us is responsible for writing our own section. We each pick out the pictures we want to include, then post them on the blog that replaced the printed-out newsletters I used to write on the computer and send by snail mail.

Although I don't miss the days of sticking stamps on dozens of letters, addressing them by hand and taking them to the post office, posting a monthly missive on a blog has its own share of difficulties. The design and layout procedures of the blogging site I use are a continual source of frustration. Every month some glitch in the system presents challenges to overcome. After listening to me rant and rave for many months in a row, Ralph learned to stay out of my office on the days when I'm putting the blog together.

Despite such frustrations, I'm glad to do it. Creating a pictorial and written account of our family's activities every month gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. It no longer matters if I can't recall details of important events or my mind goes blank when asked to remember some special date. I can refer to the blog.

I can look up details and jump-start my memory with pictures and anecdotes. My only regret is that I didn't start earlier. I wish I had a record of the previous 27 years of my marriage, something to look back on and cherish. Fortunately, my children will have such a record. And their children will, too.

What better way to start the New Year than by investing a little time in recording the past? It is one investment that has guaranteed returns.

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