6 steps for making a milestone album for someone special

I’m sharing these popular instructions again — reprinted from two years ago — for photo album makers thinking of making a meaningful gift this year.

As you look to the year ahead, think about whether the most important people in your life may be celebrating a milestone.

Is your mother turning 60?

Are your sister and your brother-in-law celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary?

Is your father finally retiring?

If someone special is celebrating a milestone in the near future, it’s time to think about making Special Someone an album.

Such a gift requires a little bit of planning, a lot of cooperation from Special Someone’s friends and a few hours to assemble an album, but the result will be worth every bit of effort.

I made such an album recently for my mother-in-law when she turned 70. My husband and his brother hosted an open house for about 60 of her friends and family, and I made her a beautiful keepsake full of memories and birthday wishes for her to enjoy until her next milestone birthday.

Nina album cover


Here’s how I did it:

1. Plan ahead. Three months in advance, we sent “save the date” cards to everyone in Special Someone’s address book (we had my mother-in-law participation, but you could do this on the sly if you’re a good detective or if you have an inside man). The cards included this message:

We’re creating a memory album for Special Someone to present to her at her birthday party. Please share a memory and/or photo of Special Someone so we can include it in the book.

What to contribute: Send a message (a story, memory or birthday wishes) and/or photo(s) to Special Someone’s daughter-in-law, Album Creator. Email or snail mail accepted. If you can’t bear to part with a printed picture, mail it, we’ll scan it and send it back to you.

Don’t delay! Send your message right now, while it’s fresh in your mind.

Include your email and mailing address.

About 15 invitees sent me something during the next 8 weeks.

2. Remind: We sent invitations six weeks in advance. Included in the invitation was this message:

Don’t forget! If you want to contribute a memory, good wishes or a photo to Special Someone’s memory album, send it NO LATER THAN DATE to EMAIL or ADDRESS. Thanks to all those who’ve already contributed.

A couple dozen more people responded, including my mother-in-law’s brother who had an abundance of photos. In my situation, the only people I had to bug to contribute were my mother-in-law’s 20something grandchildren.

Typed and handwritten messages side by side.

Typed and handwritten messages side by side.

3. Decide format: I scanned all hard copies (including handwritten notes) so I could create a digital photo book. I chose to print with Shutterfly because of its fast service (when complete, the album was delivered within a week).

album black and white

4. Select a design: One theme throughout a book ties different subjects together, so I recommend sticking to one color scheme or coordinating designs. Here, using a classic background, black and white images blended beautifully with color images on other pages.

Early years

Early years

5. Organize: I used a roughly chronological approach to the album, so friends from high school (with pictures of high school) went in the beginning, messages from her card club friends in her current life went in the middle and messages from her grandchildren went at the end. It wasn’t perfectly chronological though; images of she and her brother were near the beginning, whether they were toddlers or retirees at the time.

I tried to put similar people together on the same pages (co-workers, for example, and aunts).

Album Chris

I got a lot of family reunion photos (because, of course, that’s one of the places Special Someone often sees those who contribute to such an album, so I grouped them together here with an image in the background of South Dakota, where many relatives live(d).

6. Print and present: We put my mother-in-law’s album on display at her party so all the contributors could see their own contributions and others’ in print. But we presented the album to her a couple of days before so she could absorb all the wonderful things people said about her and remain composed at the party.

In the end, her book was 50 pages long and covered almost every important achievement and person in her life. One life. One book. Amazing.

album wedding

I sprinkled appropriate quotes and titles throughout the book, but the theme I used was sewing because my mother-in-law is an accomplished seamstress (she sewed the gown I wore to marry her son and many contributors mentioned her talents and gifts). One of my favorite quotes was this:

Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry in which every thread is guided by an unspeakably tender hand, placed beside another thread and held and carried by a hundred others.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Users of former Creative Memories software may want to migrate to Forever

If you’re a user of Storybook Creator or Memory Manager, two software products I’ve recommended in the past, take note: Panstoria.com, the Panstoria Store, and the Panstoria Print Shop are closing on Jan. 31.

Storybook Creator and Memory Manager were products that came from the former Creative Memories. When that company went bankrupt, Panstoria picked up the slack and offered compatible Artisan and Historian programs. But now Panstoria is going away, too, and those old Creative Memories programs will no longer be supported and cannot be updated or reinstalled on a new machine.

However, a new company – Forever.com – is picking up where Panstoria left off.

Everything to love about Panstoria – including Artisan, Historian, digital art, and a catalog of print products – are now available at Forever.com.

Forever and Panstoria joined forces in September 2014 because Panstoria’s products fit into Forever’s vision of helping people capture, save, and share their photos and memories for generations.

If you’re still using Creative Memories Storybook Creator or Memory Manager, they will continue to work, but they will no longer be supported and cannot be updated.

Solution? Upgrade to Forever Artisan ($29.95) and/or Forever Historian ($59.95). Still have questions? Forever has a good Q&A here.

No. 1 rule for taking better landscape photos

Real fans of landscape photography probably own several types of lenses and pairs of good hiking boots. They already know how to take good landscape photos.

The rest of us tend to take pictures of what we see outside our car window.

Which is why, when I’m winnowing a lifetime of photos for someone, I usually put a lot of landscape photography in the C pile–the trash Can. Most of it is just bad.

So the best tip I can offer you for taking better landscape photos on your next vacation or visit to the county park is this:

Don’t be lazy!

Walk around. Squat to get close. Climb to get a better view. Try a perspective that’s different than the one that’s easiest to get to. Get up early or skip happy hour (sunrise and sunset are great times for landscape photos). Move a little, and you’ll find better shots.

Here are a couple personal examples.



Note the power lines. And the fence. And the lack of any sort of anchor. The clouds passing over the dunes are beautiful. But this photo is not.



This image required me to scramble over two, yes two!, berms. I also had to get up early enough to catch the sun in some position other than overhead; my positioning tells the story of a blindingly bright day in the desert.

I know I can do better so I will continue trying. I know I will be rewarded for s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g a little out of my comfort zone, and I bet you will, too.

What does this box of photos say to you?

Remember the old Peanuts comic with Lucy selling psychiatric help for 5 cents? The punchline of her advice was usually something like, “Snap out of it. Five cents, please.”

I was reminded of good ole’ Lucy the other day, but instead of finding someone hawking psychiatric advice, it was memories. And inflation has the price at five bucks. Or $20.

My husband and I had the opportunity to visit Antique Archaeology last week in LeClaire, Iowa. It’s the store (or at least one of them) made famous by the History Channel’s “American Pickers,” which follows pickers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they excavate junkyards, basement, garages and barns across the country and find forgotten relics.

Like these:

pictures for sale

Look familiar?


Good. Maybe your family member’s image hasn’t been reduced to a commodity. But someone’s has. It made me a little sad, this container of forgotten people. But on the other hand, these were images that had been rescued, quite literally, from the dustbin.

The store displays its found treasures in beautifully curated displays, complete with the rust — and sometimes the dust — that years of use and storage imbue on them. Even this wire basket with its pretty little tag (“Misc photos $5-$20 Ask for pricing”) invites shoppers to page through it and find some gem. I’ve seen much bigger, highly unappealing piles of beat-up photos when a clients hands off a box. But when that happens, at least someone is attempting to sift the chaff from the wheat and assign a value other than a monetary one to the memories contained within the images.

How many gems sit unloved in a box on a shelf in your home library? Or better yet, how many are languishing deep in the photo stream on your phone?

A pretty wire basket on the counter is not the most archival way to store your photos (light and dust and the risk of spilled coffee are deadly for long-term storage), but it is one way to appreciate a collection of printed images (like, for a timely example, all the pictures you receive in your Christmas cards this year). You could add a little tag that says:

Memories. Free.

Nobel Prize winner champions stories of humanity

Personal historians are buzzing about Svetlana Alexievich, the woman who won the Nobel Prize for literature last week.

She’s a journalist and oral historian from Belarussia who writes nonfiction works weaving together individual stories about difficult topics like female Russian soldiers in World War II and the aftermath of Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Some of her titles include “War’s Unwomanly Face,” “Voices of Utopia” and “Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.”

Like a personal historian who collects stories from non-celebrities to create narratives, Alexievich draws on feelings and perspectives, rather than just dry facts. Her work amounts to “a history of emotions — a history of the soul, if you wish,” said Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Nobel committee.

Read more here about what personal historians have to say about the selection.