I just received the final photo proofs from my daughter’s September wedding. Perfect timing since it’s time for my trek into the recent past to produce the Hiner family annual wall calendar. I love the calendar itself, but I love the process of creating it even more.

For the past 27 years, I have made a family-photo calendar for grandparents and other family members as a holiday gift. Since some of the grandparents and aunts/uncles live across the country, it has been a nice way to keep our daughters in their lives on a daily basis, albeit in a very small way.

I love this calendar—perhaps even more than the recipients do. Each year as I review and select the photos for each page, I am reminded of the role that it has taken on in my life.

On a very simplistic level, this is my big holiday project. Some people bake cookies…some decorate their homes with little Christmas villages and garlands. And of course, others do their best imitation of The Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with their over-the-top outdoor light displays. Well, the calendar is as “craft-y” as I get.

On a more pragmatic level, I never have to put a photo into a photo album because I can see the highlights of every year in each calendar I create. Who doesn’t bemoan the fact that they are just waiting for that rainy day when they will finally get the photos into albums? I did, too, until I realized that I had my growing stack of annual diaries.

This became even more apparent after my father-in-law’s death several years ago. The family spent days and days sorting through his photo albums. Granted, my father-in-law was a very organized shutterbug with many shelves of carefully labeled photo albums going back to the 1940s. We sorted, scanned and divvied up the pictures among his five children. Instead, I keep a box of all the past calendars—two copies of each actually—so that one day, each of our two daughters will have her own set of the family history neatly stacked and already sorted. Voilà!

The most important aspect of creating the calendar is the emotional one for me. It has become a deeply heartfelt tradition to rediscover all the moments that were overlooked in the blur of life. It is truly remarkable how many things I forget each year—the events…the funny moments…the significant and the fleeting.

It’s way too easy to forget the many great moments of your life as the “mundane-ness” of each day casts shadows over the special occasions. This year has been unusually hazy and yet unusually eventful thanks to my family’s assorted life transitions.

Until I sat down to review, gather and select photos from this past year, I had forgotten many of those details. My older daughter’s wedding was the year’s primary focus…but beyond that, there was a beautiful holiday light show that made the world a magical fantasy land…snow-shoeing with friends…and a beautiful day cross-country skiing with my husband and daughter, among so many other things.

And there were dozens (hundreds!) of adorable moments with our dog at home and at the park.

There was a cross-country road trip as we moved our younger daughter to California with some beautiful stops along the way…several weddings to attend…numerous hikes and bike rides. And, of course, a series of wedding-related activities. As I skimmed through the photos, placing them in groupings for each month, I relived the experiences of those special times with those special people…just like those old Kodak commercials wanted us to do.

We all have cameras in our pockets now. And we snap, snap, snap…but how often do we review and reflect? A few years ago, my mother-in-law brought out all of the old calendars for my daughters to look at. What a wonderful experience to remember the funny faces of infanthood, the walks in the park and the first bicycle rides. The girls hadn’t seen many of the photos before, so it was great to tell the story of each picture—where we were…why we took that funny photo…why one child or another had dressed up in that silly outfit.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is telling the stories behind the Christmas ornaments as we decorate the tree. I remember my high school friend’s young siblings who gave me a little glass angel…my husband and my first Christmas together when we had no ornaments and bought blue and silver balls that we still hang on the tree…and the surprise trip to France for my 40th birthday when I place the ornament that I made from the hotel’s small shampoo bottle on the tree.

People write in their gratitude journals and reflect on their days or years. It’s a great practice. But having the visual reminder of events provides an incredibly rich experience that connects to deeper pieces of my brain. I actually am able to go back to that place, reliving not just the where but the emotions surrounding the event, feeling the joy, the sadness and the love.

You don’t need to make a calendar, but take a few moments to flip through your phone and review your photos from the year. Pause and remember the magic. Select the highlights, and send them off to one of the many photo websites that can create a memory book for the year. A beautiful tradition you can start any time.

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