A Homemade Calendar of Firsts

Calendar of Firsts

Last year at this time I was reading Laurie Bestvater’s book The Living Page and finding myself, like many others, inspired to get back into the habit of keeping notebooks.  One of the notebooks she mentioned that set off a particularly bright light bulb for me was the Calendar of Firsts.

A Calendar of Firsts is a multi-year calendar that records the “firsts” of each season: the first daffodil, the first red-winged blackbird, the first 90 degree day, the first red maple leaf, the first snowfall… you get the idea.  (You can find a slightly longer explanation here.)  When I initially read about the Calendar of Firsts, my first thought was, What a great idea for the garden! As a gardener, you tend to get a sense of when things happen every year in your zone and in your yard — when it’s okay to plant peas, when to put out the tomatoes, when to expect the first frost — but unless you have records it remains sort of a sense.  You see the daffodils blooming and think, I should check the weather to see if I can put spring greens in this week, or you see the oak leaves beginning to unfurl and think, What did Almanzo say about planting corn in Farmer Boy? How big is a squirrel’s ear anyway?  But of course it would all be much easier — that sense would be a little firmer — if you could flip back through the pages of a notebook to see how your seasons have run for the past few years.

So I know the Calendar of Firsts is supposed to be for the children — especially children who are a little too young to keep a proper nature notebook.  But I am enjoying keeping one just for myself.

Not that it’s entirely for myself, of course.  I’m a mom and I like to talk to my kids, so that means I say things like, “Hey, look, did you see the bluets in the front yard today? You know, those little blue flowers? I think that’s the first time I’ve seen them this year, so I’m going to write it down in my book today.”  It’s hard to keep anything entirely to yourself when you’re a mom, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

Anyway, it’s taken a while to get from my light-bulb moment to an actual, physical notebook that I’m using, but I thought you might like to see what I did and the sorts of entries I make.

I keep my calendar in a plain 7.5 x 10 inch unruled Moleskine Notebook

Just like this one.  When I was considering how to keep my calendar back in January, I went looking for the specially-produced Calendar of Firsts that Jen mentions on her Notebooks – Resources page.  I had looked at it last year, but the $40 price tag and the wood cover had kept me from pulling the trigger.  (Even though it was beautiful.)  But when I went looking this year, I couldn’t find it for sale or mentioned anywhere.  None of the perpetual or gardening calendars or five year diaries I could find online seemed to fit either, so instead of trying to figure out where the special Charlotte Mason one went or if it was still available, I just decided to make my own.

My first step was to go hunting through my shelves and papers to see if there was anything I already owned that would suit my purposes.  (Celeste at Joyous Lessons has a very nice printable “Nature Calendar“, which I also considered, but then I remembered my problems with technology.  And with getting papers hole-punched.  Heavy sigh.)   Last year when I was determined to be a better notebooker (and to make my children better notebookers), I bought some moleskine notebooks for all of us to use as commonplace books, etc.  I know there are other, cheaper notebooks out there, and any notebook with plain pages would work for this actually — but I like the moleskines with the soft covers.  It’s just a “thing”.  (I have a lot of “things” about office supplies.  Ahem.)

Anyway, I had one that I had originally determined to be a “Gardening, Self-sufficiency, and Homesteading Notebook”, but I had made only one or two entries in it.  After some quick math (which I hope I did right), I determined that I could still divide the remaining pages into two columns (a day per column) to imitate the layout of Red Mountain School’s Calendar of Firsts and have enough pages to cover a year.  So I carefully ripped out and saved the used pages and then I got to work with my ruler, a felt-tip pen, and a set of Schaeffer fountain pens.

calendar of firsts with tools

(I soon went in search of a flexible plastic ruler instead of this hard wooden one, though.  It was a lot easier to press the flexible ruler over the curve of the pages.)

calendar of firsts closeup

I’m not a calligrapher, and my fountain pens aren’t great, so I ended up just doing my frontispiece (“frontispiece” makes it sound so official) with the fountain pens.  I do love fountain pens, but these cheap Schaeffer nibs were kind of scratchy.  So I ended up doing most of my work with felt-tip pens.  I wasn’t sure whether I wanted the Year column at first or the lines under the entries, but then I thought that it would make the calendar easier to follow visually if I didn’t try to mix years on the same line — for instance, putting an entry from 2015 on February 7 but in 2016 writing down an entry on February 6.  Then, to keep my entries separate visually, I experimented with putting in the lines under the entries, freehand.  But it probably would have been better if I had grabbed a black pen.

This is what it looks like without any lines under the entry:

calendar of firsts January entry

I was just afraid that all the text would run together.

(You can also see that I was using different color pens.  My favorite multi-colored felt-tips are these:

(Paper Mate Flair Medium Point Pens.  I really like the black ones for regular drawing, too.  Their tips don’t squish like the pens in the sets specifically labeled for “drawing”.)

(In any case, I’m of the opinion that spring notes should often be written down in green ink.)

I’m really happy that I moved beyond the “perfect” to the “good” and actually started using a Calendar of Firsts, but I want to emphasize that I could have done the same thing in a regular spiral notebook.  It doesn’t have to be fancy (just take a look at my handwriting), but I did have fun exercising my creative side a little bit.  And it was nice to recycle something on which I had already spent money but wasn’t using!

Linking up with Keeping Company at Joyous Lessons!

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  1. Your calendar is looking great, Angela! I’m so glad you shared it, because I think it’s really useful to see how many different–and good!–ways these Firsts can be kept.

    I have to admit that the Calendar of Firsts is one of my favorite nature-related hobbies because once you have a few years of data, it is really fun to hunt for the wildflowers you know will be popping up, see if the first big rainstorm of the fall hits around the same time, and so on. There’s something about having that understanding of the natural seasonal patterns that I as a bit of a city slicker wouldn’t otherwise have. It has made a big difference in my personal nature study.

    And our Calendar of Firsts tracking sounds a lot like yours–I mostly do the noticing, and I do all the noting. This is the first year my big kids have really joined in to bug me to add things to our calendar. :)
    Celeste recently posted…Nature Study Notes :: Watching Spring Unfold–Indoors!My Profile

    • Having lived in country, city, and suburb… it definitely takes more work to notice the changes in cities and suburbs, so I think a notebook like this is invaluable. But I also wish I had used one when we lived on our 15 acres in New York, because (being from Tennessee) the seasons up there were so totally alien to me that I think I would have understood what “normal” was a lot sooner! Still, it always takes time and patience. Our culture isn’t big into time and patience, and I know that for me, cultivating the habit is the hardest thing.

  2. I’m really happy that I moved beyond the “perfect” to the “good” – wise woman! Good to see some homemade options that do the job just as well as the fancy. Came via Celeste’s link up.
    Carol recently posted…Science & Natural History with a 15 Year oldMy Profile

  3. You have beautiful handwriting! I definitely want to try this out!

  4. I love notebook ideas like this – I’m awful at follow through though. 😛 Spring is such a great time for firsts!
    Amy recently posted…End of Year RecapMy Profile

    • I’m not good at follow-through either… it’s taken me a whole year to get around to doing this! But it’s been working better than my nature notebook because it takes less time.

  5. sometimes we can get so hung up on the perfect we never actually begin. Great that you’ve moved from perfect to good:) and to recycle is always a win. I don’t think these books are just for the children at all.
    Erin recently posted…Which Noah’s Ark Book?My Profile

  6. So Lovely!!! I love the Moleskin idea!! I’ve got my own…things…with office supply obsessions, er….purchases. Is it ok if I link to this back over on my blog? I mentioned it on a post, and people were wondering if I could write some more with suggestions and links. :)

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