Lessons for Family Life from Four 2015 Commencement Speeches

Lessons for Family Life from Four 2015 Commencement Speeches

It’s that time of the year, where politicians, entertainers and successful businesspeople take the stage at the nation’s universities to address the newest members of the workforce (at least hopefully!) attempting to impart upon them their best advice for conquering the world and making it mean something.

While browsing some of the more popular speeches of 2015, it struck me that many of the core messages of these speeches could also be great advice for family life. While the pearls of wisdom certainly apply to life more generally, I was intrigued by the ways it seemed to ring true where family is concerned. Here are four favorites.

Ed Helms spoke at the University of Virginia of the tendency for people to prejudge you, “People are always quick to define you, to pigeonhole you, to whittle you down to their preconceived notion…Never let others define you, define yourselves.” Especially where family is concerned, people tend to assume you are like your family. They may assume things about your personality, your ethnicity, your socio-economic status, just because they think they know a thing or two about your family. But take Ed Helms’ advice and remember that you don’t have to let them. Or you can let them, depending on how you see yourself in relation to your family. Maybe you like what people assume about you as a member of your family or maybe you feel very different from them, or perhaps in some ways your family defines you but in others you’ve found your own path. Whatever the answer is, remember that you get to define who you are and who you are in relation to your family.

At Tulane, Maya Rudolph suggested one of the central rules of improv as a rule for life, and that is the rule of “Say yes, and”. Don’t just end the scene by saying no. She explains, “you don’t negate the other person’s idea, but in fact you build on it.” With family, it can be tempting to think that it’s no big deal to say no because they’re always there – if not this time there’ll be another chance. You might say no to a spontaneous visit or screen a call or decide not to organize a group gift for grandma this year. But just imagine the possibilities if you would instead say “yes, and”. Not only accept the idea, but add to it, go the extra mile. When it comes to family, you may not be able to see the dividends of that extra mile in real time but saying “yes, and” can make all the difference in the strength and depth of those family relationships in the long run, especially at the tough times.

Matthew McChonaughey presented 13 of his life-truths to the graduating class of the University of Houston. One of those life-truths was “Turn the page.” He says, “turn the page, get off the ride. YOU are the author of the book of your life. Turn the page.” This is what he suggests you do when something goes wrong, or not as expected, or in a direction you don’t want it to. This is also true with family. Although it can seem that you’re stuck with them no matter what, that can lead to a defeatist attitude thinking that it doesn’t matter how you act because you’ll always be with them. But the idea of turning the page comes to reject that and say that you are the author of your book and even if your family isn’t going to win the Functional Family of the Year award (or worse), that doesn’t mean you can’t start a new chapter even if it’s simply starting over with a particular family member, or mentoring a younger family member, or trying to organize a Holiday event in a new way that your family has never tried. If something in your family isn’t going quite as you would’ve hoped, turn the page, find something or someone you can connect with and make the most of that.

Finally, Natalie Portman spoke at Harvard, her own alma mater, and said something profound about life, but especially about family. She said, “it’s not about quantity, it’s about taking pleasure in the perfection and beauty of the particular.” She went on saying that “the joy and work ethic and virtuosity we bring to the particular can impart a singular type of enjoyment to those we give to and to ourselves.” She herself tried hard in college to try to get inspired and good at a myriad of subjects, only to come back to her true passion of story-telling through film and dedicate herself to that which brought her the most joy and meaning of all.  Indeed this is one of the most profound messages about family. We tend to think that the most family-oriented people are those with the biggest clans, the ones with the most traditions, rituals, special events. But like Portman says – it’s not about quantity, it’s not about being the most – it’s about the beauty of the particular. Your family might not be the biggest or have the most fill-in-the-blank, but your family is yours.  This mindset is key for figuring out how to celebrate your family, how it enhances your life, and what your unique contribution to it can be.  Just remember that this is your unique, particular family, the one you can appreciate and give to in your way, and investing in that can produce some of the most meaninful experiences in life.

So while you may or may not be a graduating senior, these nuggets of wisdom can be a nice early summer reminder of how to celebrate and invest in our families today and moving forward.

14 Drink-Inspired Gifts for Dad

14 Drink-Inspired Gifts for Dad

A seemingly benign item, the mug, glass, flask, stein, bottle that a man chooses to hold his beverage of choice is actually an opportunity to make a subtle, (or not so subtle), statement about what he believes and loves. And so, a choice drink-inspired gift can be just the solution you’re looking for for the dad you’re looking to please this Father’s Day. Here are 14 ideas based on whatever kind of dad you’re in the market for:

MUGS
1. For the Geeky Guy who’s not a morning person: The Battery Changing Mug will show his battery recharging as he fills up his morning coffee (based on temperature change!).

2. For the Basketball Fan: You can’t really go wrong with a mug with a hoop for dunking marshmallows and the like.

3. For the Friendly Father: A “Hello My Name is…” mug will make friends as he sips his morning cup a joe.

4. For the Know-it-All Commuter: A Never-Wrong travel mug can comfort his smugness as he rides to work.

5. For the Superhero Dad: this Superdad mug needs no explanation.

6. For the Dinosaur Dork or Pun-loving guy: this dino joke mug might just do the trick.

WATERBOTTLES

7. For the Indoor Dad: An “I will never take this camping” Nalgene will keep him hydrated throughout the house.

8. For the Feel-Good Father’s Day gift, check out the MIZU Watter Bottle for which proceeds go toward providing clean and safe drinking water to those around the world without access – as he drinks, so do others.

LIQUOR Lovers

9. For the Whiskey Connoisseur try these Whiskey Stones to cool down the whiskey to the ideal drinking temperature without diluting it. Or if that wasn’t enough to demonstrate his hardcore-ness:

10. The Personalized Whiskey Barrel will do the trick.

BEER Boys
11. For the Lounger who Loves Beer, this beer glass doubles as a bottle-opener.

12. For the Do-it-Yourself Dad, he will love getting his hands dirty with this Beer-making kit.

WINE Drinkers
13. For the Wino, why not make him his own Custom Wine Labels? You can even include a photo of him to make this special edition extra special.

14. For the Cork Collector: this classy cork cage will keep track of his corks while also serving as a conversation piece.

Whether his drink of choice is coffee, tea, beer, wine, whiskey, or the classic glass of water, a fun vessel to drink it out of will be an almost daily reminder of the thought you put in this Father’s Day. So cheers! Here’s to dad, and Happy Father’s Day!

3 Technology Hacks to Celebrate a Birthday From Afar

3 Technology Hacks to Celebrate a Birthday From Afar

One of the hardest things about living far from someone you love, is not being able to spend their birthday with them. The most obvious way of making someone’s day extra special it would seem, is by being there to organize parties and deliver gifts and affection, but with a few creative uses of simple technology, we are here to claim that you can definitely make their birthday a day to remember even if you can’t be physically there with them. We’ve come up with three ways to use every-day technology like email, texting, and websites you use daily to make them feel extra special this year.

  1. Create a Birthday Email Address. – This one works best with at least a little bit of advanced planning. Whether you have a few weeks leading up to the birthday of your long-distance bestie, boyfriend, brother, etc., or a few months, this can be a winning option which can cause both extreme surprise and joy.  All you have to do it create a unique birthday email address, say for example happybirthdayjason@gmail.com (or, you know smushiesbday@gmail.com). Create the account and start emailing love notes, birthday wishes, photos, videos, songs, scanned old photos, forward old email exchanges, anything that you think will make them happy.  While waiting in line at the supermarket you can send an email about how you’re thinking about them and what you might buy for them if they were here. You can even give out the address to other friends and family to send wishes too. Then, on their birthday, give them the password! They will be blown away by the thought you put in and be able to sit down and go through the emails feeling how much you thought of them in honor of their birthday.
  2. Call in Reinforcements! Often people feel that just a call or email to the special person on their big day is just not enough to express everything they want to say. So imagine tens of people calling and emailing to tell them how much you are wishing them all the wonderful things in the world on their birthday. We spoke to Guy who told us he’s been doing this for the past six years on his mom’s birthday. He sends a mass email to all of his friends asking them to call or email his mom on her birthday to wish her the happiest of birthdays. He told us, “I never liked giving gifts which were bought from a store. Mainly because I usually prefer getting gifts which are custom-made to fit the relationship between myself and the person giving the gift. So with my mom, I felt I had to do the same and she is so down to earth, so appreciative of every small thing but most of all she loves people more than anything. So sending people who she did or did not know to wish her happy birthday was the perfect gift.”
  3. Make a Birthday Playlist. There is something magical about music that creates an atmosphere and a flavor for the day, it can bring back memories and change your mood. Having a soundtrack for their big day can add that extra something in between the lines for the day to feel that much more personalized. They can listen to your custom playlist while getting ready for the day, riding between stops or just chilling before going out that night. You can come up with songs that will remind them of special times you’ve had together and just general feel-good music according to their taste. Denise told us that her sister did this for her on her birthday two years ago and it’s still her go-to playlist when she’s thinking of her sister or just needs a pick-me-up.  She told us, “it was a really nice birthday but I was sorry my sister wasn’t there to spend it with me, and when she sent me the playlist in the morning I listened throughout the day and felt like she was there with me in a different way and haven’t stopped listening to it since!”  You can listen to the mix all day as well and even post it on social media for others to celebrate with them too by listening in.  A few birthday-themed songs to consider including are, The Beatles’ “Happy Birthday”, “It’s My Party (and I’ll cry if I want to)” by Lesley Gore, Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday”, for the Bob Dylan lovers there’s “Forever Young” (and for a softer interpretation try Audra Mae’s version). Of course there’s the eternal rendition of “Happy Birthday Mr. President” sung by Marilyn Monroe. And not to leave out the pop fans, you might like “Birthday” by Katy Perry or “Young Forever” by Jay Z featuring Mr. Hudson. Two easy and free ways to create a playlist are on YouTube or 8tracks.com. This too is something you can build over time leading up to their birthday as you think of songs they’ll love.

Don’t let the distance make you think that you can’t be there in virtual ways, make this a birthday to remember. With one or two or all three of these ideas, you can be the one to add that extra something to your loved one’s birthday this year. So go on, start thinking of songs for the playlist!

How to Stop Feeling Distant from Nearby Family

How to Stop Feeling Distant from Nearby Family

When you were deciding where to buy your house, a big part of the reason that you chose your current location was because it was close to family. And yet, you see those nearby family members much less often than you had hoped and you find yourself feeling rather distant from them even though they’re just a short drive away. You are not alone, and in many ways it is only natural that despite your best intentions to be close with family, that it actually takes effort to maintain those relationships – geography alone is not enough, especially when everyone is so busy. So we’ve come up with five simple and fun ideas to help you feel closer to those close-by family members without clearing your weekly schedule. Try choosing just one or two and let us know how it goes!

  1. Listen to an audiobook together. This option is great for families with kids and teens who have cousins around their age. Choose a book to listen to simultaneously and choose a reasonable date to finish by. Audiobooks can be listened to in the car on the way to school and other activities and so it doesn’t have to impact your schedule too much. On the date you set, get together for a Family Book Talk. You can even choose the menu and do some light decorations inspired by the book. This way, when you get together you can jump right in talking about the book without any awkward time lost on warming up again.  You might be surprised at the wonders of bonding that experiencing a book together can create.  Two good resources we found for audiobooks are: Loyal Books which has a decent selection of young adult classics for free, with no registration required. Also, the Random House Listening Library has a large, nicely categorized, and very up-to-date selection of audiobooks for kids and young adults. And if you’ve got 8-12 year olds, we have heard excellent reviews of the brand-new Ratscalibur by Josh Lieb, for a funny and charming read, or rather, listen :).
  2. Create an EverMinder group. One of the more frustrating moments is when you miss a family member’s birthday, especially when they live near by and you could’ve done something nice for them or just called them up, but you forgot and you’re kicking yourself for this small missed opportunity for connection – big fat forehead slap on this one. But keeping up with all those dates is nearly impossible with a growing family and hectic schedules. But if you set up your EverMinder group just once, you’ll get those reminders straight to your email with a link to send a message or even a gift. It’s free to use forever, and if you add in your family members’ email addresses, they too will get those reminders from you straight to their inbox. Then, all thanks to you there will be many more birthday wishes flowing in the family – just the kind of thing that helps people feel more connected to their family even if they don’t see them all the time.
  3. Set up an Absentee Potluck. We just made up this term but we absolutely love the idea. Choose a time – ideally Sunday night either once or twice a month – where you meet up with family members to exchange ready-made dinners for the week. Here’s how it works: each family makes a double batch of the dinner item of their choice – say lasagna or chili – and then exchange one with each other that Sunday night. That way each family has an extra ready-made dinner, and a night during the week where they’re eating the dinner that the other family made for them, a really nice way to show you’re thinking of each other and also help them out a bit with their week. To add extra cuteness, drop in a note from your family to theirs!
  4. Video chat with them. I know what you’re thinking, “I didn’t need a blog post about keeping in touch with family to tell me to video chat.” However! People often treat video chat as an amazing tool for keeping in touch with relatives who live far from them, and underestimate the value of video chatting with those nearby. Since you can actually see each other while talking, video chat has that special effect that makes it seem as if you’re hanging out together, and not just talking. So take advantage, even for a short chat while you’re doing the dishes or to show them the artwork your kid brought home that day. There’s a special intimacy about those little chats that provide a window into each others’ daily lives so don’t be afraid to fit them in where you can.
  5. Be spontaneous! Most of us tend to think that the best way to make sure you see someone is to schedule, schedule, schedule. But when you know it’s on the calendar for three weeks from now, it can actually make you less likely to just stop by, see if they’re free for a quick coffee, or randomly go for a late movie together. Spontaneous get-togethers don’t have to include everyone – it can be one-on-one or two-on-two, whoever is available right then. This is one of the major pluses of having family who live close by – you’re close enough that with even short notice you might be able to squeeze in an informal meetup. These can be short and sweet but they keep the connection going with a sense of closeness rather than waiting for special occasions. Go ahead, try it, you just might like it.

There’s really no need to be down on yourself about not being in as great of touch as you would like with those you love, this happens to everyone. Just choose something from the list and give it a try, or use one of the suggestions on the list as a conversation starter with those nearby family members to decide together how to make sure you stay close the way you want to and that the kids do too.

Hope you found this helpful, we’d love to hear your thoughts and additional ideas in the comments!

True Stories: I Forgot My Mom’s Birthday

True Stories: I Forgot My Mom’s Birthday

In honor of Mother’s Day in one week from today – we dedicate this post to all the well-meaning children out there (who may even be moms themselves) who would like to make sure they never forget their own mother’s birthday. Now, you might be thinking – Me?! Forget my mom’s birthday? Never! In fact, I never have in all my [fill in the blank] years of life! Well, friends, all it takes is one time to cause an unfortunate forgotten birthday situation. In fact, it is more common than you might think. In our busy lives, it’s not so simple to keep track of all those dates and with people geographically spread out over various time zones, we wouldn’t blame you if this happened to you. We talked to three women with forgotten mom birthday stories to hear how it happened and how they tried to prevent it from ever happening again.

Ally told us that it happened about two years ago. “I was super crazy and busy and barely knew what day of the week it was,” not to mention what the date was. “I was waiting at the bus stop to get to work, and took out my planner, and realized that it was November 15th, and that I had totally forgotten to call my mom two days earlier on her birthday.” Flabbergasted at the fact that she had forgotten even though it was right there, clearly written in her planner, she realized she simply hadn’t looked at it in a few days. She couldn’t call her mom right at that moment because she knew she was at work with her phone off. She called and emailed later and apologized profusely. Her mom was understanding and she admits, “I think I felt worse than she did.” Ever since then she hasn’t figured out just how to remember, but just tries to be more aware of the date on a regular basis.

For Shauna, the episode happened over twenty years ago, but she remembers it like it was yesterday. She was only ten at the time, and yet somehow everyone in the family forgot her mom’s birthday that year. “My dad called the house to tell me my mom’s on her way home and she’s upset and crying.” Everyone scrambled to have a little birthday toast ready for her when she arrived home as they made their group apology.  Of course she says that “needless to say that since then that date has been etched in our memories.” Although, just to be safe they also made every password in the house related to mom’s birthday just to make sure that all family members would know it by heart from then on.

Our final story, comes from Joan, who simultaneously had her own birthday and anniversary forgotten by her husband. In this case Joan’s husband’s good intentions were met with a little technical mishap. He knew he wasn’t so great at remembering dates and so he made sure to plug them into his electronic calendar on his iPad. Truth be told, it was actually a case of a little human error which was then magnified by his trusty iPad calendar. Here’s how it happened: Joan’s birthday is on January 25th. Her’s and her husband’s wedding anniversary is on May 28th. Her husband saved their anniversary in his iPad calendar as January 28th – taking the month of her birthday and the day of their anniversary. So on January 28th, while she was bundled up in a blanket during a snowstorm, her husband burst into the living room exclaiming “I’m so sorry! I forgot our anniversary!” “What are you talking about?” Joan asked. “It’s our anniversary today…!” he said, to which she replied “Honey, we were married in May.” “But my iPad says it’s our anniversary today…” he said confused. “Turns out,” she told us, “technology can only help you remember dates if you enter them into the device correctly the first place.”

Although it turns out that forgetting your mom’s birthday once can do wonders for making sure you don’t forget it ever again, Ally, Shauna and Joan all recommend slightly more elegant solutions for the future.

Has this happened to you? We’d love to hear more stories in the comments! Happy Mother’s Day y’all!

Do It Yourself (With a Little Help from Caroll)

Do It Yourself (With a Little Help from Caroll)

You know the people you see on TV sometimes who live way out in the country and get really excited to get high speed internet? Well Caroll Wilkins describes herself as one of those people. Except that for Caroll, getting high speed internet outside the city limits of Walnut Grove, Missouri, wasn’t just a convenience for emailing and surfing the web – it is what made her custom vinyl decal business, Vinyl Express, possible and successful. Caroll specializes in Do It Yourself items so that if you want to create custom lettering or a design for a shop window, wall, car, or if you want to create your own Family Birthday Board, then she can create the vinyl lettering or design and you mount it yourself wherever you please. If you can think of it, she can make it into a vinyl decal for you. She does stencils and iron-on transfers too – “I do it all – inspirational, humor, nursery, living room, business….in all the colors of the rainbow.”

Every Customer is Unique

What excites Caroll  most about her business is being able to help people make something that is just what they are looking for, “Maybe an inspirational quote, or a monogram in just the right size and color. Often I am able to help a small business with store signage, or a local athletic team with decals for a fund raiser.” About her customers Caroll says “They aren’t just an order” but rather each one is unique and she gets to know them over email to make something they will love. Some customers become repeat customers and friends, contacting her for each new idea they have. She has one repeat customer in Arkansas who recycles old windows making them into frames and often orders decals of quotes from scripture for the windows. “I also have recently done some decals for wives of firefighters and police officers. I love those. They always make me feel grateful for the service that is given.”

The whole Wilkins clan helps get orders done for Caroll’s Vinyl Express shop

A Family That Works Together…

“Fortunately, my shop and my family work together. This past Christmas season, I had my husband, kids, and parents all working to help me get orders processed. Yet, I was able to shut my shop a week before Christmas so I could just spend time with my family.” Caroll believes in all types of quality time with family, “I think it always brings a family closer together when they spend time together, whether that time is work or play.” And Caroll has a lot of helping hands around  with 8 kids of her own and 10 grandkids plus 2 more on the way! Indeed they need a Family Birthday Board in their house to keep up with all those birthdays and anniversaries – luckily they know someone who knows a thing or two about making one!

Caroll’s shop VinylExpress is a proud participant in our new Birthday Board promotion which provides a 15% discount off of Birthday Boards or Birthday Board Decals from participating Etsy shops for all new EverMinder users.

 

She Saw the Sign, and it was Pointing to Family

She Saw the Sign, and it was Pointing to Family

Meet Tiffany Hardy. She lives with her family outside Dallas and runs an online shop called Sign Chik. But Sign Chik was only a faint flicker of a dream when she was making custom signs and gifts for family and friends just for fun. When she and her husband David were so enjoying the positive feedback and encouragement they were getting, that they decided to give it a try selling online. That was back in 2011, and today Tiffany says that “within three months, I was able to quit my bookkeeping job in Dallas and create signs full time! This allowed me to be at home with my kiddos and stop missing precious time with them!” Tiffany says that one of the things that most excites her about her shop is the amount of growth from year to year, and that their “shop started out a hobby and has very quickly become our only income.”

At Sign Chik they currently make Family Birthday Boards, Personalized Yard Signs, Custom Wedding Venue Decor, Personalized Coasters, Commercial Grade Store Front Vinyl Lettering, Custom Vinyl Wall Art, and much more. If you can think of it, they can probably make it for you in the form of lettering, decor, or a sign. Most of her items are custom ordered as gifts for others, and so when asked to describe her store in three words Tiffany says it would be: Affordable Personalized Gifts.

The Wonders of the World Wide Web

Living 50 miles outside Dallas and not in a major city, a storefront seemed like a limited possibility at first. The Hardys have therefore become very comfortable with selling their items online. They still feel that they are learning more every day about the best way to promote their goods online. They mainly sell their items through their website and Etsy as well as their Facebook shop and a couple of other online platforms.  In fact, Tiffany says that the most surprising thing about starting and running her shop is the unbelievable amount of free knowledge that’s out there to help you grow and improve your business.

SignChik has made 1,200 Birthday Boards

A Family Affair

In addition to allowing her to work from home and spend much more precious time with her kids, Tiffany says “our family IS our shop.” Each family member is involved in a different way, “my dad helps build our products. My sister lives in Wisconsin along with our mother and they help promote our items. Our kiddos even have roles in the company. So you could say that we all pitch in and make it a family success!” Family has proven both the end and the means for Tiffany, who was originally just looking for a way to spend more time with family and ended up creating a meaningful family business through it all.

SignChik is a proud participant in our new Birthday Board promotion which provides a 15% discount off of Birthday Boards purchased from participating Etsy shops for all new EverMinder users. 

How We Talk to Our Parents Who Live Far Away

How We Talk to Our Parents Who Live Far Away

Due to the global nature of our world, many more people than ever before life far away from close family members, including their parents. On top of that, technological advances have completely transformed the way people communicate and maintain relationships – easier and cheaper air travel, widespread use of computers and cell phones, reduced rates for international calls, and more. This reality is what triggered Dr. Sayali S. Amarapurkar, who has her Ph.D. in Family Social Science, to conduct a small informal experiment among long-distance families about how they maintain contact with one another, specifically adults and their aging parents whom they live far away from – about how they communicate and how it affects their relationship.  She published her findings in an article called “Unique intergenerational interactions: long distance relationships of adult children and aging parents” with the National Council on Family Relations.

What she found was that indeed technology plays a large part in helping these families keep in touch on a very regular basis. Some participants said there was a transition period where the parents “would have a hard time learning the technology. But now, they are relatively fluent and excited to talk to us every week.” Indeed it is both possible and life-changing for older individuals to learn to use technology to connect with family. What was most interesting however, was the fact that these sets of adult children and their aging parents seemed to utilize different types of technology and devices for different types of communication. As opposed to a certain preferred way to communicate, each channel has its place and function.  For example, as pictured in the infographic above, email and Facebook were found to be used mainly for sharing news, updates and photos. And the phone and video chat were used for longer conversations, and to include other family members who they wouldn’t usually get to connect with on other channels, or to speak to several people at the same time.

Dr. Amarapurkar noted that up until now, research about intergenerational communication has focused on the functions that the communication serves – the reasons that the generations are connecting, mainly: giving and receiving advice, help and information; conflict resolution; and of course the most important – expressing love and care for one another.

INTERGENERATIONAL COMMUNICATION

In fact, Amarapurkar notes that one of the proven ways that parents and children can maintain family solidarity for many decades, is, among other things, to show high levels of affection to one another. Generally, it seemed that the participants clearly grasped the nuances of each form of communication and how each one could serve them best. One participant for example, said that verbal communication by phone was best for elderly parents and relatives to share stories and get advice. And one elderly parent said that in online chat she uses emoticons to express her feelings and checks Facebook for updates on her son’s life but wouldn’t ever comment on his wall, she emails her special recipes and sends e-cards to congratulate and inspire. Indeed there is a vast world of ways to communicate, and each generation is finding its way to best use it to bring them closer with their loved ones.

Meet the Makers: The Story Behind Family Birthday Boards

Meet the Makers: The Story Behind Family Birthday Boards

UPDATE: As a follow up to the success of this blog post, we have launched a promotion for 15% off a birthday board ordered from some of the shops interviewed here! Details here: everminder.com/birthdayboard.

At first glance, you might not be quite sure what you’re looking at. A board with strings of charms hanging down… But within about sixty seconds you’ll go from not having known it existed to absolutely needing one of your own. What is this mysterious item? It would be the Family Birthday Calendar, or Family Birthday Board – the crafty trend gracing your screens more and more often these days on platforms like Etsy and Pinterest.  Since at EverMinder, we are passionate about both families and birthdays, we decided we simply had to investigate the increasingly popular trend which is slowly making quite a name for itself on the world wide web and in homes across the world.

The Family Birthday Board is a functional piece of art which visually displays all family birthdays, anniversaries, and other special dates within a family, in a single place, organized by month. You’ve probably been there – you’ve forgotten a family birthday, or had yours forgotten, and it stung. What’s worse is that it was preventable, but finding the right solution isn’t simple in our busy lives. Especially as families grow, it’s harder to keep track of special days in the family, and so the board becomes a constant visual reminder of those important dates. Plus, it’s a beautiful piece of art you can customize to match your own style and decor – the sheer number of different designs available is incredible.

We were so fascinated by this charming and practical item that we just had to find out more. We contacted some of the top sellers of these boards on Etsy and surveyed them on their experiences with this special piece of art. The answers we got blew us away – there is so much magic in what could otherwise seem like a mundane object, just one of many items for sale in various online shops. Read on for what we found out!

How It All Began

For almost all of the sellers we spoke with, they started by making their own Family Birthday Board or by making one as a gift or being asked by someone to make one, only to realize how useful and unique it was and so it became part of their business, almost by accident. For some of the sellers we spoke to, Family Birthday Boards are now upwards of 75% of their total business and some of them have made hundreds of these over the past couple of years alone.

In their words:

  • Since I absolutely love birthdays and I love my family, I thought it would be the perfect Christmas present for my 94 year old grandfather. His calendar has a total of 45 hearts for all of his offspring (that’s including the son/daughter-in-laws and himself). He loved it and so did the rest of the family! (Andrea Schröer, byAndreaTaylor)
  • My family has a lot of members (over 60) and we had a hard time remembering all the special dates (anniversaries, birthdays, etc). I made my first board for my mom. So many people liked it and wanted it, I expanded my options and styles, then started to sell them on Etsy. (Chelsea Hoffman, EaselyInspired)
  • I started making the birthday boards to give as Christmas gifts. The functionality and simplicity of it was the real selling point. Being able to go outside the box and customize it to fit people’s homes is what I truely enjoy. It’s a very creative and easy way to have access to everyone’s birthday all at once. Plus it’s something you can easily add to and never goes out of style. (Charlotte Bess, FromHeartToHomeDecor)
  • I was adopted when I was only days old. We connected with my biological family when I turned 18. So I had 2 whole families to keep up with. And then I got married! Another family to keep up with. So it really was to keep my own sanity. I started making one for myself and my girlfriend offered to pay me for one. A few months later when I was asked to be a bridesmaid in a wedding in Hawaii, I decided to sell some boards to help cover the cost. (Suzannah Hastings, SuzzanahsPretties)
  • After getting married, I found my calendar was bursting with new birthdays, anniversaries, and other important events. I found the Birthday Board idea and started my own…its importance has grown into a treasured family tradition. (Jessica Reid, IfOurWallsCouldTalk)

It’s All About Family

What was abundantly clear in what the sellers had to say about this piece, is that its magic comes from the centrality of the family in this item. Many of them gushed about how much they enjoyed customizing a board according to each family’s style and personality. In fact, all of the sellers but one indeed have their own Family Birthday Board hanging at home (and the one who doesn’t is planning to!). All confirm that it certainly helps and Sophie Underwood of TheEnglishRoseShop says she no longer has any problem remembering family birthdays now that she has the board. Lora from LalasDecorByTheShore said she looks at hers at the beginning of each month and prepares cards to mail out that month. Mystena Crow of WonderfullyMadeDecor who has already made over 200 boards said about her own board, “I love having my out of state family on the board, they love it when you remember their birthday.” Amanda of VinylConcepts said that she loves her board because “it is especially fun for the kids to see they are part something great…an extended family.

They said…:

  • I get enjoyment from thinking about families (like ours) looking at something I created every day, and reminding them of a special occasion. I love making each piece unique to my customer’s taste, so they love their product and it is a full representation of them. (Courtney Reed, PersonallyPoshDesigns)
  • We hope that families enjoy their boards for generations. (Paula Lyons, RCOriginalsGallery)
  • A lot of my customers have a huge family and this helps organize the dates for them all in one place, and new family members can easily be added! (Tiffany Hardy, SignChik)
  • It’s all about family and our family gets to hang on our wall for everyone to see. (Andrew Wright, Wright4Design)
  • I think it helps bring out the importance of the family. When you display it, it lets other people recognize the fact that your family is important to you. (Caroll Wilkins, VinylExpress)
  • My business was founded on making decor that is both beautiful and functional. I also love items that celebrate family. My Birthday Boards are the perfect example of what I stand for as a business owner. (Jessica Reid, IfOurWallsCouldTalk)
  • It’s so handy to have your loved ones displayed. Not only does it show a growing family, but it shows that a family cares because they want to know the special days of all its members. (Chelsea Hoffman, EaselyInspired)
  • In my opinion it gives the chance to always have you and your family to think of a family member or family friend, even if they are not close by. (Prettina Roberts, ThisLittleLight00)
  • For me, I feel that it is wonderful to be able to see all your family names in one place. We are a military family, and the members of our family are all over the country. It is just nice to be able to remember everyone even if we don’t get to see them very often (remembering birthdays is a bonus :)) (Suzannah Hastings, SuzzanahsPretties)
  • Our chalkboard style lets you change the name or saying on the board or include two last names, which is great for blended families. (Jonathan Prostko, Signs of Life)

The Perfect Gift

In addition to being both beautiful and practical, the third factor for a trend to really take off is if it makes for a good gift, and this is one of the best family gift ideas we’ve seen – especially as a gift to the “birthday person” in your family. Karla Gwinn of Pink Tree Creations even advertises this item as the perfect conversation piece for the family. When we asked the sellers about the most common occasions to give Family Birthday Boards, the main answers were the natural ones like birthdays and Christmas – one seller named Sam of PaperjackUK, made over 50 boards in December 2014 alone. And Nicole Arn of LizzyFishSigns, said her husband had to take off work for a few weeks just to help her complete her orders this past Christmas!

Meet the Makers: The Story Behind Family Birthday Boards - on the #everminder blog

In order to finish her Christmas orders last year, Nicole’s husband (Lizzy Fish Signs) took several weeks off of work to help! (And this is only a hobby away from her day job!)

But in addition to Christmas, many sellers found that customers were purchasing Family Birthday Boards as Mother’s Day gifts, and especially for milestone anniversaries. What better way to visualize the incredible legacy of the family that one couple has built than to see it visually spread over the year in names and dates of their loved ones? Some of the sellers even write on the board the phrase: all because two people fell in love. One seller, Suzannah Hastings, told us that she was commissioned to make a board for a Greek family for a 40th wedding anniversary and the entire board had to be in Greek. About making it she told us, “It was the largest order to date. It ended up looking beautiful and I got an email a few months later saying that their parents absolutely loved it. Making that board was a real challenge, and hearing that it is used and loved made everything worthwhile.”

Almost all of the sellers we spoke to also found that with this particular item they had many repeat customers. They would often have a board ordered as a gift and then have the customer come back to get another one for themselves and for others in their family.  Courtney Reed said she even has a repeat customer who is a realtor in Florida who orders these from her as closing gifts to her clients who purchase homes! Most touching of all is the idea that Jessica Reid shared, that what she feels is unique about this gift is that it’s a gift that keeps on giving, “There will be plenty of smiles when a Birthday Board is unwrapped. Like a stone dropped in water, the love continues to ripple as brothers and sisters get calls on their special day. Nephews and nieces open cards, and friends are invited to lunch…a Birthday Board gift will bring happiness for years.”

Custom, Custom, Custom

One of the unique characteristics about Etsy is its focus on handmade items and custom orders, and with this item the customization is endless and flourishing. The sellers we talked to customized in so many different ways, even beyond the standard variation in color, pattern and font. One example is from Ashley Pederson of CustomVinylBoards (for whom the birthday boards are one of her most popular items although she had only made a few before starting her Etsy shop). She can make you a board herself, or she can send you a kit for your to do it yourself! She has sold over 700 boards in the past year and a half, and almost 700 DIY kits.

What they shared with us:

  • I really love the custom jobs. They will send me pictures of the room where they want it, or a picture of the painting their child did that will be next to it, and want me to match the colors of the Birthday Board. It is a challenge and I love it. They end up being my best work. (Suzannah Hastings, SuzzanahsPretties)
  • Recently, we made several “sport teams” boards as well as larger custom boards for customers. One particular board was made for a nursing home – I thought it was a great idea for them. We are also looking at a new version of the birthday board that would be a virtual calendar with holidays and other special occasions included. (Tim and Tonya Nichols, CraftyConceptsStore)
  • I ask the customer about matching to their decor. I take requests. I include special dates, not just birthdays and anniversaries, but days people join the military, baptism days, pets birthdays, and even make a family members’ discs extra special if they’ve passed away. (Chelsea Hoffman, EaselyInspired)
  • If your family has a favorite saying as an inside joke, that can be included in the design. That’s the part I love about making these, and that’s what customers appreciate about them, too. (Nicole Arn, LizzyFishSigns)

It truly is just as Tim and Tonya Nichols put it: “your imagination is our limit.”

The Final (but most important!) Touch

The real custom part of the board however, is the names and dates of your own family members, this is what makes each board a true one-of-a-kind. The discs or nickels for each of the names come in all different shapes, sizes, materials and colors. Many of the sellers make birthdays circular and anniversaries heart-shaped. About half of the sellers we spoke to plug in the family information for the customer, and sometimes they even put the year of birth on the back of the disc. For some designs it’s part of the design for the seller to plug in the information, for example Paula Lyons who carves the names and dates into discs of maple, walnut, cherry, maple or paduak, or Andrea Schröer who burns each name and date into the wooden discs. Others let the customer decide if they want to send the family info and receive the board done and ready to hang, or allow the customer to fill in the details on their own.  And still others, provide the board only with the appropriate amount and type of discs but the customer fills in the details on their own once they receive it in the mail. In the case of Courtney Reed, who has created over 500 boards, she used to do the dates and names herself until it got a bit too complicated. So now she simply sends a Sharpie with each board so that the customer can start filling in the info right away!

Meet the Makers: The Story Behind Family Birthday Boards - on the #everminder blog

Courtney of Personally Posh Designs has made over 500 boards. She sends a Sharpie with each order for customers to fill it in themselves!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the world of Family Birthday Boards, and stay tuned for more posts on the subject – we so enjoyed this exploration that we’re planning more! And tell us your Family Birthday Board stories in the comments below, we’d love to hear them!

Skip the Romantic Date, Make it a Family Playdate

Skip the Romantic Date, Make it a Family Playdate

Who ever said that Valentine’s Day is exclusively for lovers? What about where love begins – the family! This Valentine’s Day, why not make it a playdate, instead of a romantic date (or in addition to it!). Valentine’s Day gives us a national excuse to celebrate the love in our lives, so here are three ideas to use this Valentine’s Day to celebrate the love in your family:

1. Make a Day of it!

Especially since this year Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday, do something with the family or even just one member of your family. Whether you have little ones at home, you’re empty nesters, you are a grandma, or you’re away at college – find a family member and do something fun together. Have a picnic with the kids, get a pedicure with your aunt, see a movie with your cousins, take your nephew to play laser tag, video chat with your brother. If you want to make it even more Valentine’s-oriented then why not hold a romantic date for the whole family – stage a candlelit dinner with sparkling apple cider and have everyone dress nicely too!

2. Make heart-shaped family food!

This comes to counter the idea that all Valentine’s Day food must be in the shape of cookies or candy – not so! Family style food can be Valentined too. In the photo above, there are four ideas we found and loved which can easily add some lovin’ to your otherwise regularly scheduled family meal: morning toast, vegetable soup, sushi, and cinnamon buns! An added bonus is that none of them require a heart-shaped cookie cutter or multiple heart-shaped cookie cutters in numerous shapes and sizes – just simple, fun, family-oriented, and yummy.

3. Make it memorable!

Beyond the time you spend together as a family this February 14th, how about doing something that leaves a keepsake for the home. Hold a family love-themed photoshoot – lie down together in the shape of a heart, get photos of the kids kissing each other on the cheek, snap a photo from the ground of the family hug. Or have each family member write down things they love about your family on colorful strips of paper and keep them in a jar on the mantle and add a sticker: “Our Family Love Jar”. The added bonus here is that the next time someone is having a rough day at home or having an argument with someone else in the family, you can send them over to pull a slip out of the jar and read it to remember all the things they love about the family.

So this Valentine’s Day, don’t hold back – take the opportunity to celebrate the family love!