Home       About Us       Salsa Store       Referral       Lifebooks       Recipes       Videos       Blog Headers

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lifebooks: that first step is a doozy

Every journey starts with a single step, right? So here's my first step toward completing those lifebooks for Ro and Ree. I've gathered resources and tips and made the initial print/layout decisions—wahoo! Now I'm no lifebook expert (seriously, I'm about as far as you could get from one, and will probably do a million things that cause angst among the real experts), but I've done a bunch of research, am determined to make regular progress on these valuable books, and am happy to share experiences along the way in case it helps anyone else. Alrighty then, here's my take on this project so far: TIPS 1. Just start! Stop obsessing about what it's going to look like, where to start, and exactly how you're going to layout the pages. Some people, many people in fact, write a whole lifebook without "designing" one single page. Ok, that stuff might not seem important to some, but it makes a control-freak like me feel a little better and gives me a kick in the butt to just close my eyes and leap. 2. Words first (a personal decision): Based on #1 (and knowing my extreme tendency to procrastinate by playing with graphics and photos for hours without doing a lick of writing), I've decided to start with simple lifebooks created on my computer in Microsoft Word. I'll figure out the photos I want for each page, but I'm not going to worry about graphics, embellishments, photo placements/treatments, or anything fancy for this first round. I'm going to print the pages out myself, and put them in three-ring binders. This will let me test things out with the girls, fix things that aren't working, and not get hung up on making the lifebooks look or sound perfect right out of the gate. Once I'm reasonably happy with them, I'll load everything into Picaboo (one of the online photobook companies) and take the final step of tackling the nitty-gritty layouts and printing some nice, beautiful books. If you don't obsess over graphics and whatnot like I do, just ignore this tip and do everything at once (words + design). 3. Don't Strive for Perfection: You don't have to make everything perfect or include every single thing you could possibly think about. There are some basic things you want to include in your lifebook, and you probably have that information at your fingertips: your child’s birth and birthplace, her birthparents, the reason she was placed for adoption, orphanage/foster care, how your family was formed (the adoption process), the day you met, and how she now fits into your family. Any additional information from there is a bonus. So relax, and start with the basics. 4. It's *Her* Lifebook: A lifebook is your child's story. It should be written for her, owned by her, and told from her point of view. Make sure this is the story of your child, not the story of your adoption experience. As one example, the lifebook really, really needs to start with your child's birth, not with your desire to have a family. Also, don't be afraid to get your child involved in the process—one easy way is by incorporating her handwriting or illustrations in parts of the lifebook. 5. Don't Make Things Up: The lifebook should be truthful, based on fact and not assumption. RESOURCES Books/Guides: • Beth O'Malley's LifeBooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child (I ordered a used version from Amazon, and really like the sample pages included in the book) • Kay Graap's Lifebook Writing Guide Online Lifebook Groups:Asialifebooks.org: a members-only forum you can join that helps through the whole writing/assembling process (I joined this one and the wealth of info is kind of staggering; I particularly appreciate the information about how to approach the really hard topics) • Chinadigitalscrapbooks.com: a members-only forum that helps with the graphics side and also has many examples Sites Where You Can Create a Photobook:BlurbiPhoto: Mac only • Kodak GalleryPicaboo: this is the one I'm going to use because I like that you can use any photo as a page background and I like the one-click ability to add embellishments like thumbtacks/brads/tape/accents/etc. to the corners of your photographs • ShutterflySmilebooksSnapfish Scrapbooking Supplies/Templates/or Graphics:Bright Jade quick pages: based on the outline provided in Kay Graap's lifebook writing guide • Scrap and Tell: this site also has some example layouts • Digital-scrapbook-kits.com: digital scrapbooking kits about Asia • My Story Lifebooks: a complete Shutterfly lifebook template that you can upload to Shutterfly and customize • Note: I would love to add to this section, so if you have a fave source for graphics or supplies, please let me know. Companies Who Will Write and Illustrate a Lifebook for You:Dream KidzLittle Lotus CreationsMy Story Lifebooks HOMEWORK (Heh heh) Now there are two pieces of homework this week (for anyone who wants to power through this lifebook project along with me). • Review the resources and make a decision about how you want to proceed. Do you want to do a simple printout in a 3-ring binder, do an online digital book, handmake a paper scrapbook, or hire a company to interview you and then make the lifebook for you? Play around with a few of the options and sites to see if they really do what you want. • Join any lifebook groups that interest you, grab any books you might need, and read through the material—get familiar with their recommendations. Start an "idea list" and jot down any ideas that appeal to you. In the meantime, I'm going to be looking at a few more sample lifebooks and working on a final (well, really semifinal, oh the wishywashyness) content outline. After that, I'll tackle 2-3 spreads at a time. If you've already made the initial design/resource decisions and are ready to start working on your content outline, here are some sample outlines to spark those creative juices. I'd love to hear any comments or suggestions about these outlines, or see some more of your lifebooks (my email address is in the sidebar if you feel like sharing). SAMPLE OUTLINE #1 (from the Beth O'Malley workbook): Your birthdate Birthplace and chinese name Before you were born, you grew in a special place Birthmother/father Reasons for adoption China Finding place Orphanage What we were doing in the meantime Referral day Flying to China Meeting you First day together Flying home/arriving home SAMPLE OUTLINE #2: This is the story of you Your birthdate Chinese zodiac (your birth year and other family members' birth years) China (many of our favorite things come from China) Where were you born? Birthparents Who do you look like? Reason for adoption Orphanage Your name Foster family Your city What the CCAA did to find you a family Our petition to the CCAA Referral day Traveling to China Family day Your new name (american, chinese, last name) Official paperwork China experience Our promise Cheers, and thankyouthankyouthankyou to everyone who is helping with this project. I'm unclenching and breathing easier now that I'm not alone with this. And when (notice that I said "when" not "if") I do something lifebook-related that you think is the most idiotic thing ever, let me know, but please be kind because I really do have good intentions and tender feelings.


  1. Hello, my mom started a lifebook class down at social services off of julian once a month. They are sharing different tips and showing you how to do many different things. Its on a friday so it might work with your schedule. Let me know if your interested and i will get you the info. I will be down there tomorow for a different class they are putting on.

  2. Your blog is great, so I know the life books will be very special as well. A lot of the information and photos are already here.

    I wouldn't have thought about having the girls help, but involving them will make the books really theirs. They will be co-authors. Together you will relive the miracles they are.

  3. Might I also suggest getting organized with a portable filing box with hanging file folders in it? Each folder represents one page or spread in the lifebook. Then you can stick writing samples, copies of layout designs you like, relevant photocopies of adoption documents, photos that "go" and such in each folder. It might help you concentrate on the writing because then you'll have a set place to put the "other" stuff, so you know you can find it again when you need it.

  4. I am really glad you're doing this now, I've been thinking about making a book for my girl for months now and this format is just what I needed to DO it. Thanks for the kick in the booty.

  5. My son's lifebook turned out to be a scrapbook of his first year of life... We look through it often, especially now that his sister joined our family. That reminds me... gotta get working on hers!

  6. There is a cute digital kit (papers and elements) that I am going to use that might be of interest to some...
    It is a little bit Valentine'ish, but I am going to tweak them a bit:
    I appreciate you sharing the process...I am going to narrow down my content areas now!

  7. Thank you. I have been obsessing over the design, the program and everything else "graphicky" because I am NOT a designer. But I am a writer. I need to start there and stop worrying about the "pretty." It's the story and photos that matter to my daughter, not the "buttons and swirls" around them. I have had the words in my head for so long, I need to just...write.

  8. M3,
    When you said the lifebook should be told from the child's point of view, could you elaborate on that? Do you mean it should be written like "you were born in ____, China" or "I was born in _____, China"?
    As you can tell, I'm behind the lifebook power curve, here!

  9. Anonymous2/12/2010

    I think this blog is their "lifebook".

  10. I have used Picaboo to do my kids scrapbooks (maybe the same thing as a lifebook, just by a different name?) Anyway, I love it! So easy to use. I have used Blurb to do my blog. Before I publish in Blurb I always go back and add a few details that I felt were a bit to personal for the blog world, yet I want to keep in those books.

    Good luck!

  11. I am so excited that you are sharing all the details as you go through the process. Although I am not ready to do this along with you, I will be using all of this resourceful information when my time comes........which will be soon, I HOPE:)

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    Happy Valentine's Day and Happy CNY!


  12. Hi Metaphase: I think you can use whatever voice you like, either "This is your story, you were born in China" or "This is my story, I was born in China." That one's kind of personal preference, I like the third person myself and find it easier to write that way, so that's what I'll be using.

    But writing the book from your child's point of view part means that you want to write about things that are important to your child and personal things that they would have noticed or would get excited about. On the day you met, for example, write details like "You were wearing xxx, and holding a tiny cracker. You were so tiny, about the size of Big Nanny, the teddy bear who sits in the corner of your room now. You cried when you first saw us, then were really quiet until daddy showed you the xxx toy" rather than "We were so excited too complete our family and meet you, we had waited for 5 years for this day and it was the most exciting day in our lives." That kind of thing.

  13. Anonymous2/12/2010

    Picaboo is wonderful! The books are clean, crisp, and fresh. We used them for our daughters adoption story (domestic), and they came out wonderful. Most of the time they do specials where you can buy two, get one free. We did one for the adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoption center!

  14. I did Gwen and Maddy's lifebook a few years ago but I've always wanted to redo it because my photography and scrapbooking skills are way better than they were back then.

    Picaboo sounded interesting so I checked out your link. First thing I noticed is that it seems to do everything Blurb does. But the biggest difference was price. Seriously! Both of my kids have life books that are 120 pages and they cost $36 at Blurb but the same book costs $240 at Picaboo! Yikes! I'd almost be afraid to let my kids touch the book if it cost that much!

    If you'd like to see and touch a Blurb book (to check out the quality), give me a call and I'll bring mine over.

    You can also use any photo as a background on Blurb.

    Just tryin' to save you some money, my friend!


    Our Blog: Double Happiness!

  15. Oooo, thanks Donna, I'll check Blurb out!!! It's probably the only one I haven't played with yet.

  16. M# - Please please please made sure to add PEAR, PAIR to the Referral day. I don't know how you couldn't but just thinking of the video makes me smile. I just love it!

  17. Hi! What a great post about creating a lifebook. I'm a member of CDS (you mention us in your post) and I have created my kids lifebooks a few years ago. You give great tips! For example: start with it, don't think about it. I have a tip for you: If you want to create a great lifebook, the CDS members have created digital quickpages that are sold at http://www.digital-scrapbook-kits.com. They are made with the Journey of the heart kits, by members of CDS. An example pack with 4 QP's is in the freebie section. The packs I mean are the Bright Jade and Spring Blossom page sets. All profits from the sale of these sets will be donated to Love Without Boundaries and Half the Sky.
    There are links in the shop to a gallery where all pages included are shown. It is really a great kit and a labour of love from our group!

  18. M3, I totally agree with you. Some parents think that their child's life begins when they became a family when in fact it didn't. G's lifebook (work in progress) is her life, what is known from Birth to family day. I have my verbage...I'm now STUCK on design. I cannot commit to something. I just have to realize it's really NOT about the design and that can always be changed later. Good luck with the girls books!!!

  19. M3, your timing on this is perfect! We're on vacation next week for EJ's winter break from school, so I'm hoping to dig in and get the text written (or at least drafted). I've already purchased several digital scrapbooking kits, but haven't really given it much more thought!