A year-end ritual in our home, as in many, is taking down the old kitchen calendar and hanging the new one. Fresh and clean, the empty pages wait for our family's appointments and events to be duly penciled in.
But what of the dogeared, tattered record of the past year? Should it simply be thrown out?
Not just yet. For the old kitchen calendar holds some valuable information, a partial log of how our family spent the previous year, an answer to our perpetual ''Where did the days go?'' query. And by taking some time to study it, we may discover something about ourselves as well.
At the end of one year, for instance, as I perused the old calendar I realized that almost half of my own entries involved meetings that I was supposed to attend. Add these to all the other activities in my life (many of which were not written on the calendar) and it was easy to see why the past months had seemed so hectic. I lost no time in resigning from a few committees in January, and life became manageable again.
The same thing happened to my husband, but in reverse. He had experienced a ''stale'' year, a period when life seemed to have lost its sparkle. And when he read back over his own calendar memos - ''Hardware store for lumber,'' ''Dentist-2 p.m.,'' ''Car oil changed'' - he realized that he had scheduled very little time for fun. The following year he made a point of seeing a good movie or taking a day-long bicycle trip now and then to rekindle his enthusiasm.
We found that the old calendar was a remarkable commentary on our social life , too. Had we shared time with the family members and friends who were dearest to us, the people we most liked to see? Or had our rare evenings out been spent as ''duty occasions'' with acquaintances who meant little to us? Were our outside activities adequately balanced between church and school events, volunteer work and recreation? Or were we ignoring one important area and becoming too heavily committed in another? Only in retrospect could we clearly see what ought to be changed.
Our children keep their own calendars, and they too have learned to evaluate the previous year. When our high schooler looked at the large amount of weekend job hours he'd accumulated over the fall, he realized why he was losing touch with his friends and had no time for sports. He decided to cut back on his work schedule in spring to accommodate Saturday morning tennis games with a pal - and felt, as he put it, ''more well-rounded'' as a result. And our daughter, apparently disorganized, discovered that she had dutifully listed orthodontia appointments on her calendar but neglected to note band and volleyball practice. No wonder she was forgetful! The situation was remedied, and she felt more in control of her life.
Time is a precious commodity; a review of the old calendar can help us discover where it went and whether we spent it in the most valuable way. Taking a few moments to do this can help us get the very best out of the year that lies ahead.