This is a guest post from Connie Hendricks over at The Present Life.
Recently I had an opportunity to visit with the creators of the Life and Times Annuary, a book for recording a lifetime of memories. I think this book would make a wonderful gift, and I wanted to find out more about it. So here is my Q & A with Brandon and Jennifer Wade about their family business, recently launched in January 2017.
Q: How did you develop the idea for the Annuary?
Developing the Annuary was a convergence of many things. I’m a “solution finder”, so we developed this idea in response to a number of issues my wife and I were discovering and struggling with in our own lives.
I was feeling nostalgic and overwhelmed. After 52 years, my grandparents moved out of their home where we all came for Christmas Eve dinner every year. Each of their belongings conjured up so many special memories, and the phrase “we should write that down” kept coming up as we moved boxes into the van. Around the same time, my father and I endeavored to make a book that cataloged each of the 21 houses he lived in before the age of 21. It was a huge effort that left me exhausted, and the finished product still felt lacking.
My wife, Jennifer, is smart but has a terrible memory. We have two social and active young boys who steal our time and hearts. My own efforts to document their lives have left us drowning in photographs and videos, with little time to collate, edit, and layout annual books like we all imagine we will. She wanted a way to jot down the major milestones and keep it all in one place easily. And not just from our kids’ lives, but from our own lives as well.
For the past 17 years I’ve been a historical documentary filmmaker, and I know how diving into a person’s history can quickly become a daunting and fickle task. It is almost infinitely valuable once done, but it has to be easier and less expensive so people can capture that long view of their life somehow.
We took these issues out for a long road trip and came back with a big idea. We don’t need a diary for our days, but an Annuary for our years.
Q: How did you decide on the style and formatting?
We wanted to create designs that will stand the test of time. The goal is for this book to last well over 100 years; it can’t be designed with only today’s trends in mind or three years from now it will look dated. We hope our editions to speak to the author and inspire them to keep adding more and more. Because I do a lot of graphic design work for my job, we had a good chance of pulling this off.
Jen worked hard to figure out how the system of writing in the annuary would work. She loved the idea of using one spread (the two facing pages when the book is open) to be one year of life. That felt like enough room to document a year, but not an overwhelming amount to paralyze the author from actually filling it out. She also came up with a way for it to flow from one year of life to the next, and it didn’t matter the author’s age to begin. We left room for each person to fill out their annuary up to 100 years old, with extra pages beyond that in case they live longer or one of the years just needs a bit more room.
We collaborated over other sections of the book, like having a more inclusive family tree in it, because we think the way many family trees are designed is flat-out rude. Too often, they have static boxes for one mom and one dad, who each have one mom and one dad, etc. When we look through the many generations that have come before us, as well as those generations forming today, it is rarely so easy to delineate. If we do play along and fill in only our biological parents, we are leaving out some of the most impactful parental figures of our lives. This is not a new phenomena. We wanted to honor the actual people who showed up in life.
Q: What are the main sections of the book?
The book is broken into three parts. The first part has examples and inspiration to help you fill out your annuary. It is cool to see how other people have used their pages. Bullet points, paragraphs, photos, doodles – it is all welcomed. You don’t have to be a writer to enjoy this – trust me.
The second section is the meat of the book and what we call “The Living Years”. This is where you have a two-page spread for each year of your life. It has lines for writing and centering marks for pasting in snapshots. It is entirely up to you.
Section three is about rounding out your story. This section can be helpful for both you and people who might appreciate it after you are gone. Family tree sections are big here. We provide space for multiple versions so as your family shifts throughout your life so can your “trees.” One section we are very proud of is the “Claimed Family” section. A family tree only tells part of your story; we believe that relationships are sometimes even more powerful than bloodlines. This section is where you get to preserve your BFF’s or neighbors that influenced your life. For example, my dad was involved in the Big Brothers & Big Sisters mentoring program. Well his “little”, who he has been paired up with since the 1970s, is still a part of our family. Clark spoke at my wedding and wouldn’t make the traditional family tree, but people like him are very much part of my story, so I get to “claim” him as my uncle here.
Finally, we have a tribute section for people we have lost along the way. Rather than fill up your year with a tribute to someone you love, we thought it appropriate to make room for that outlet of loss. From people to pets, it is a blank canvas to get your valuable memories on paper.
Q: How is your Annuary different from a traditional scrapbook?
The Annuary is designed to work for busy people! We don’t want scrapbookers to stop scrapbooking, and we don’t want to get in the way of people who are penning their own memoir. We are here to provide something of rich value with an understanding that we are all busy and may not have tons of time to get it all down. The system that is baked right into the design of an annuary is helpful for shaping and capturing your most valuable memories. We designed this to hold a whole life in one volume, so that when a loved one has passed on, their story is rich but concise enough to keep handing down. It is a great balance between “helpful for me right now” and “amazing gift to my family when I’m gone.”
We have had a lot of interest from people who value genealogy. They are always looking for more detail about the lives of those who came before them, and are interested in having something to pass on to their own children and grandchildren in the future.
Q: I understand the book can be used for all ages. Can you explain more about its versatility?
Yes, the ingenious design of the annuary is what makes it so versatile for any age author. The ages are printed on each page, but each author writes in the calendar year associated with that age, so there’s no need to get the “1980 version” for example. Also, it is extremely versatile as a gift. We usually think of something that honors a lifetime as being a great gift for a baby shower, big birthday year, wedding or even a retirement. I’ve been humbled to hear about people also getting these books to help process times of loss and sadness, like after the death of a child. For some people, including their lost loved ones in the timeline of their own lives helps them honor and commemorate their time together. Also, we love how this book is available to people of every income level. As anyone who has tried to look up their family history can tell you, it is far more common for wealthy families to have well-documented lives. Now that doesn’t have to be the case any more!
Q: What is the best advice you can give to someone who has just received your Annuary and is ready to begin?
After you read the introductory pages in the book, we always say to start with last year. That year is both recent and complete. Just fill out what you want for that year. It gets the ball rolling and shows just how simple this can be. All the years in the past can stay blank until you feel inspired to fill them out. We write a lot in the first 50 pages of the book about how this isn’t a race and you don’t get a grade. When you are ready to fill in some past years, we have lots of suggestions in the book and on our website about how to approach this process easily and joyfully.
Q: I see on your website that you have four different styles of books available. Can you tell me how each one differs from the others?
Each addition internally is the same. The annuary system is the same. However the cover designs are different to meet aesthetic values of each author. This is an amazing gift for things like a baby showers or anniversary gifts so we wanted to provide options that not just spoke to the people buying the gift but for the author or “annuarian” who will have this thing their whole life and continue to add more to their story.
Q: What are your goals for your Life & Times business?
The big goal is to provide a way that busy people can jot down their most valuable memories in a way that will last the test of time. You can always pull a book off your shelf, but who know what happens to your information in the cloud if you don’t pay your annual subscription fee. Nor are your great grandchildren going to know your cloud password. Our goal is to provide solutions that are reasonable now and last for generations to come.
Q: My blog is mainly about giving meaningful gifts. Why is your Annuary such a great gift?
As aspiring minimalists, both Jen and I subscribe to the idea of giving a gift isn’t just enjoyable in the moment but also useful and long lasting. The Annuary is something that can shape the way you see life, and it provides a lens to see what might be important in the future. It can shift your perspective and get you out of your own nitty-gritty to see larger themes in your life more clearly. Watching some of the films we have produced at our website (Life-and-Times.com) is a great way gain inspiration and understanding into the power of the annuary. We think that readers of The Present Life might be interested in giving the gift of a lifetime!
Thank you, Brandon and Jennifer, for taking the time to share about your passion.
If you are interested in giving an annuary, or purchasing one for yourself, please visit their website at Life-and-Times.com. These classic, beautiful books are an affordable way to give the gift of memories.