Aug 262014
 
Preserve memories before they change - zoo shots

To preserve memories before things changed, I took photos of the kids at their favorite spots at the zoo.

Usually we focus on recalling—and sharing—events from the past. Sometimes, however, we have the opportunity to preserve memories before things change. In fact, that’s why we keep travel journals and scrapbook about our children.

Life Transitions

Times where we sense that we’re on the precipice of change are bittersweet. We know the moments are special and we want to live in the moment. On the other hand, we know the moments are fleeting. The latter makes the former difficult.

In his article, Keys to Handling Life’s Transitions, Robert Taibbi recommends “Think positive, think opportunity.” For memory-collectors, there is a great opportunity.

At such times of transition we have a chance to preserve memories before things change. Thinking about the things we want to share with loved ones and realizing which moments are the moments that matter help us drink in the “now.”

This resonates with me because our family is in transition. My house will soon be an empty nest. My husband’s sister and brother-in-law are retiring and leaving their parsonage. My in-laws are moving to a retirement community. My cousin has married off the last of her four children.

These transitions are normal passages of life. In a way, they make me feel warm and fuzzy. It’s the way things are supposed to be. But occasionally all too frequently, the neurotic side of me makes itself known. I feel like I’ve been on an exhilarating roller coaster ride and we’re coming back to the station. I only wish I could get back in line to ride again.

Preserve memories before things change but keep moving

This is true, but I don’t think Albert would hold it against us if we stopped to take a couple of notes!

Preserve Memories Before Things Change

At times like these, I like to go back to my grandmother’s idea of writing about “Things I Want to Remember….” It’s one of the first prompts offered in Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. (You can also get the brainstorming sheet for this by subscribing to my newsletter.)

Grandma wrote short paragraphs about things she wanted to remember. Each one captured a small moment in time—such as watching her children at play. Using this idea not only allows you to preserve little memories before things change. It also allows you to communicate the little things that make of the daily rhythms of your life.

While I’m helping people pack up and move, I probably won’t have time to write deep introspective essays about how I feel. What I can do, however, is jot myself some notes. Maybe each one will turn out to be a story or vignette. Maybe it’ll just be a list. Stay tuned…..

Your Turn:

Have you been able to preserve memories before things changed? If not, think about it. Make yourself a list.

Aug 212014
 
Throw back Thursday

Throw back Thursday: My boys and I

I keep seeing my life—well at least the last eighteen to twenty years of it—flash before my eyes.

It’s probably because my nest is emptying next week, as my youngest heads off to college. Everywhere I go, sweet memories creep into my peripheral vision, denying me focus. Part of me is sad that they’re just memories, that times have changed and the kids are grown. Part of me is grateful for their presence, however ephemeral. I like playing the old filmstrips.

Passing a soccer field reminds me of all the practices and games. As I ride my bike through a park, I remember countless days on the hiking trails, looking at bugs, running from bees, and ending up on the play structures. I remember watching my kids and their playmates swing and slide while talking to the other moms. Sure, there were discussions about what SPF sunscreen to use and the debatable virtues of fluoride treatments, but most were about the things that matter. Teaching our kids to find their passion. Keeping friendships despite geographical separation. Evolution versus creation. Those things.

Going through the storage room, the boxes way up high and to the back catch my eyes. Huge containers of Lego’s and wooden train sets (that I probably should have given away) comfort me. I may not remember each and every hour of building and reconfiguring, but I know I was there, in the floor, bonding with them.

The sight of my father’s H-0 train sets does bring a pang of regret. Since they couldn’t have a relationship with their grandpa, I wanted to teach them his passion. There was great interest in setting the train up but they quickly bored of running it on the tracks. My hubby, who always knows the right thing to say, just shakes his head. You did what you could. You can’t force a kid to pick up a hobby. It resonates or it doesn’t.

A friend once told me that watching a child become independent is like watching a rose go from a small bud to a glorious open bloom. I was too embarrassed to tell her I much prefer the buds. I love the promise of potential. The bloom quickly fades; its petals start to brown. To me it’s the embodiment of all things temporary.

Throw Back Thursday all grown up

Not a Throw Back Thursday–this was just a few weeks ago.

I know such ruminations aren’t productive. None of us can move forward with one foot stamped firmly in the past.

So I resolve.

I’ll look backward with gratitude. I’ll look forward with hope.

But, you’ll excuse me if I cry a little before I start the hoping part.

 

Aug 192014
 
Reminders of home sheets

Reminders of home can include soft sheets. Of course there’s a risk they’ll be used for a toga party.

As kids embark for college, we want to provide them some reminders of home for their dorm rooms. It’s not only for their benefit. As much as we want them to be happy and successful, we also want them to think fondly of the home we’ve provided them for the last 18+ years.

When I was a college freshman, my mom helped my roommate and I set up our dorm room. After her bargain hunting, we not only had matching comforters, but matching curtains as well. I don’t know what happened to my comforter, but twenty-years later, my roommate’s dachshund had possession of hers.

Now that my own nest is emptying, I get my mother’s urge to help set up my new home. In a way, it provided a piece of her—and reminded me that I had a loving home not too far away. Similarly, my roommate’s mother sent jars of Russian tea gave her warm reminders of home.

Great Reminders of Home

Meaningful Advice

In a wonderful Huffington Post article, Starting College: A Guide for Parents, Marshall P. Duke advises,

What thoughts, feelings and advice do you want to stick? “Always make your bed!”? “Don’t wear your hair that way!”? Surely not. This is a moment to tell them the big things. Things you feel about them as children, as people. Wise things. Things that have guided you in your life. Ways that you hope they will live. Ways that you hope they will be. Big things. Life-level things.

Dr. Duke even recommends writing your student a letter to express these things.

Pictures and Mementos

Photos from home are great gifts. For my oldest son I got a cool photo frame. Being sneaky, I mixed family photos—including the dog—with photos of his best friends. I plan to do the same thing for my younger son next week.

If you’ve gotten your child decorative items for his or her room at home that they like—such as soccer flags or posters—encourage them to take them with them.

Cheat Sheets

Lisa Hefferman recommends making cheat sheets for thing they’re not used to doing. This can include anything from laundry to setting up the wireless printer.

Medicine Cabinet in a Box

The University of Michigan (where my youngest is headed) recommends assembling a kit of over-the-counter meds that you usually have at home. Think about it. Most pharmacies’ selection of pain relievers and cold and cough remedies are overwhelming. In a small way, providing these medicines also allows us to “take care” of our kids even when they’re away. Throw in a thermometer as well!

Favorite Foods

Kids today are no different than we were. They love care packages!

Your Turn

Other ideas? Comment below!

 

Aug 142014
 
where to start telling your stories

Where to start is a personal question–the answer varies from person to person.

Interviewers frequently ask me, “Where should people start if they want to write down their memories?” Although I sense a little disappointment with my “It depends…” there’s no pat answer on where to start. It is—and should be in my opinion—a personal decision.

That said, it’s easier to start some places than others. Here’s a list of good ways to start

Start with what comes easy.

This is actually the underlying logic of my book, Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. It progresses from the easy to more difficult. Continue reading »

Aug 122014
 
Writing Your Family History can be fun

Writing your family history can be fun and rewarding.

Keep these points in mind to make writing your family history more fun, rewarding, and doable.  Each of these is probably a post of its own, so stay tuned!

1. Writing Your Family History Isn’t Just About the Research

Don’t get me wrong; research matters. A lot.

But you don’t have to be a genealogist to start writing your family history. If you’re not, your project will be smaller in scope or you’ll write more about the relatives you’ve known than your ancestors. Chances are, however, as you start writing, the stories of the past will beckon you to find out more.

 2. Writing Your Family History Can Be Done Piecemeal

If you’ve been researching your ancestry since the 1970s, the prospect of writing your family history might be intimidating. Likewise, if your knowledge of your ancestors is paltry, you might have misgivings about putting any of it to paper.

Relax. You can write it piecemeal. Let’s face it; even if you want to include every iota of information, can’t write it all at once. Make an outline (or not—there’s more about that in my book), and just start writing about what you know.

3.  Family History Isn’t Synonymous with Genealogy

That’s a future post! Give yourself license to explore both.

4.  Research Doesn’t Have to be a Solitary Pursuit

As you share stories, share your passion for family history and the hunt for ancestors. With research, “the more the merrier” equals “the more you know.” Consider collaborating with your online distant cousins as well.

5. Dashes (between birth and death dates) Are Your Enemy

Nearly no one connects to simple names and dates. Try bringing your ancestors alive. See also How to Turn Dry Facts Into Stories and The Rest of the Story: How Family Stories Fill Gaps in Research.

Stories need historical context (and images). Yes, this means additional research, but the understanding you’ll gain will make it worthwhile.

 6. Citing Sources Isn’t Just for Professionals!

My aunt, Ann Crymes, would come back and haunt me if I didn’t include this. She learned this this hard way. Whether it’s in research or stories passed down, cite your sources. There will be times that you’ll need to go back to the source and review. Fellow researchers will also want to know where you found your info. (And, if someone shared their data, you’ll want to credit them as well!)

 7. Your Family History Starts with You

Your stories and your memories of loved ones matter. Oral histories, aka stories you heard at your grandmother’s knees, are precious commodities. They—and your memories of loved ones—are exactly what your family is in the most danger of losing.

As you write about the past, put yourself in the frame. Writing a factual and accurate history doesn’t preclude showing some personality. (Again, there’s more in my book.)

8. Brick Walls Belong in Your History

Many people include their ancestral quest as part of their story. Rumors and speculation are like clues and, hopefully, someone down the line will find the missing piece to your puzzle.

9. Share as You Work—or at least think about it.

As you write, think about whom you’re sharing with. Not only will it help you write, it will also make the labor of love more rewarding.

10. Write Well

This is more of a book title than post sub-title. By my standards, however, you’re writing well if

  • Writing isn’t a drudgery
  • Your stories are interesting to read

(There’s a lot more about this in Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life as well.)

11. There Are Tools that Can Help

Don’t recreate the wheel. Look at what tools other experts use and see if you think they’ll work for you. For instance, Lynn Palmero (Armchair Genealogist) and I like Scrivener. Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter is a great place to find techy reviews.

 Your Turn:

Are you writing about your personal or family stories or considering delving in? Sign-up for my newsletter to stay to get tips and resources!

 

Aug 082014
 

Follow Friday Friends Whether you’re searching for ancestors, recording your family history, or writing your personal and family stories, friends come in handy. Commrades in arms (or pens or keyboards) will keep you inspired, grand you a fresh perspective and provide an enthusiastic audience for your content. If you haven’t found them right near your home, there are plenty online. That’s why I’m participating in GeneaBloggersFollow Friday.

Follow Friday is a prompt to help spread the word about good genealogy and family history related sites. (Get it? High places = the Cloud) When a Geneabloggerrecommend a site, that side will be added to this Pinterest board. (You might notice there are already quite a few sites to explore there!) Since I’ve already been the beneficiary of many fellow bloggers, I thought I’d share my Follow Friday Friends with a wider audience.

The Ancestor Hunt is my first Follow Friday recommendation. It’s run by Kenneth Marks (aka @Marksology) who’s always directly his fellow family historians to helpful information. It was through Kenneth that I came to know about Follow Friday in the first place. His posts range from helpful research advice and resources to more thought provoking posts.

Aug 072014
 
Car memories of family fun

Does this VW ad bring back car memories? Image credit: Wikipedia Commons, Bundesarchiv

If there’s something that can come close to cotton candy’s ability to evoke the past, it’s car memories. We love to remember the cars we used to drive. Of course, car memories inevitably include the adventures we had in them.

This comes to mind as my sister is getting her nearly ancient mini-van fixed again. This time it’s the radiator. She’s relieved her mechanic can do it for under $400. That means prayers again go unanswered for her thirteen year old, who would like nothing more than to see that car suffer a horrible, un-ressurrectable death. Me? I’m disappointed the mechanic has decided to throw in fixing her horn. Continue reading »

Aug 052014
 
Sentimental things or junk?

It’s hard to know what to do with sentimental items. (Image credit Wikipedia Commons)

Many of us would like to honor loved ones by holding on to sentimental things. We usually manage to work our most cherished heirlooms into our home décor, but it’s harder to display other nostalgia items. Beloved knick-knacks wind up confined to a shelf in the basement—or worse: a box. Only on rare occasions do we bring them out to bask in fond memories.

It’s a shame. You probably don’t want to erect a shrine to grandma—especially if she still lives next door. However, being able to see and touch objects that are emotionally significant to you can make your home even more like home. Continue reading »

Jul 312014
 
How much detail brush strokes

Just like paint brush selection effects artwork, how much detail you include in your story changes how readers digest it.

Writing with Detail versus Boring Your Audience

How do you find the balance of writing with detail versus boring your audience? How do you know how much detail is too much? Think about the following:

How Much Detail Works for Your Purpose

You can really answer the question of how much detail is too much unless you define your purpose. Education, for instance, has a different bar than entertainment. Memoir writers often see advice like this (from Anne R. Allen in How to Write a Publishable Memoir: 12 Do’s and Don’ts): “…Your happy memories of that idyllic Sunday school picnic in vanished small-town America will leave your reader comatose unless the church caught fire, you lost your virginity, and/or somebody stole the parson’s pants.”

The bar is much lower if

  • You’re not trying to pen a bestseller (Coming soon: What to do if you are!)
  • You’re not trying to pitch an agent to represent you
  • You’re writing for people who love you

Most of us wouldn’t be bored reading that our grandmother enjoyed Sunday school picnics. We’d enjoy imagining her proudly contributing her baked beans or fried chicken. (There’s much more about this in my book. Also see Why Writing for Your Family Is Like ….)

Who are you writing for? If you have the dual purpose of writing for yourself and others, you might want to include details that might be less than riveting reading for others. For instance, in her travel journals, my mother wrote about things that I skim over, such as what she had for breakfast each day. I still enjoy reading about her travels.

Why Details Matter

Leo Widrich’s What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains has some great insight. Details can stimulate readers’ imaginations or connect them to stories of their own. A great story stimulates various areas of the brain. (Boring details only stimulate the centers for understanding language.)

How You Present Details Matters

How much detail? Too Much!

How much detail? If you’re presenting facts–not telling a story–it’s too much!

Word choice can change the mundane to enchanting or scrumptious. Was the coffee strong or was it so strong that it got up and walked over to you itself, no wait-staff needed? When you infuse your personality into details, it enhances the story.

Connecting details to the story prevents them from seeming extraneous. Perhaps their incongruence itself is poignant. Perhaps your attention to superfluous details was how you coped. For instance, during an assault, I remember thinking that I hoped the necklace my mother gave me wouldn’t get broken. That detail illustrates my mental state.

Which is better: Too much detail or not enough

Are your details bringing the story to life or putting the reader to sleep? Are your details complicating the story, making it hard to understand the point? Widrich’s article spells that out in terms of cognition:

“ Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other have such a profound impact on our learning?

The simple answer is this: We are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think.”

In other words, whenever your details are making the story clearer, include them.

Matching Your Writing to Your Personality

In my opinion, you have to be true to yourself. If you normally throw a ton of asides in your verbal narratives, be careful of over-editing yourself. Nevertheless, do edit.

When Details are Disturbing

That’s another post! Stay tuned.

Your Turn:

How did you determine how much detail to include in your story? When have you struggled with this?

Jul 282014
 

When journaling tells a story that narration wouldn’t.

Journaling to tell stories

Journaling is a great tool for telling stories

There are times that journaling does a better job of telling a story than narration does. This is especially true for events that take place over time. As you share your journal entries, you take your readers with you on an adventure of discovery.

We always talk about writing our stories. However, it’s also possible that we already have—that we just have to capture them off social media or a past journal. Continue reading »