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A Father's Legacy Letter to His 5-Year Old Daughter

November 17, 2014

I doubt anyone would blame Tom Attwater if he didn't spend much time thinking about the future of other people, considering he has a brain tumor and his lifetime is limited. But don't tell him that. Yes, he has a brain tumor and, yes, it will probably take his life. But his five year-old daughter, Kelli also has cancer and he has been doing all he can to raise funds for her treatment.

He has also done something more, something there is no price tag you can attach to it. He has given his daughter his love and his attention and a voice to come to her for the years ahead. He has written a thoughtful and heartfelt legacy letter laying out his hopes, dreams, thoughts, wisdom and wishes for her in a variety of future life endeavors. He knows he won't be there in person, but his legacy letter is truly wonderful. As a dad he wants the best for his daughter and he dispenses great advice for her (and anybody else, for that matter) about various topics. He shares his dreams about school, a career, boys, marriage and how he'd like to be remembered. It's good stuff and shows yet another way an ethical will/legacy letter can be a priceless gift.

6 Brothers Documentary - a Story inspired by WWII letters

November 11, 2014

On this Veterans Day we remember the many who have served in the United States Armed Forces. That included my dad, a career Air Force pilot and decorated Vietnam War Vet (see The Pilot Who Soared on Eagles Wings).

One of the things I found of interest recently is a family history inspired by the letters written during WWII by the grandfather of Daniel Stenberg of Bismark, North Dakota. Daniel is a Personal Historian and those letters got him started on what became a family history documentary, 6 Brothers: A Story of Hope, Loss, and Perseverance on the Northern Plains.

I have not seen the documentary, but it sounds fascinating. You can visit the website, to find out more.

I also think it is important that people continue to be aware of Veterans History Project. It is a place where stories of veterans can be archived with the Library of Congress. See more here.

25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 9, 2014

There are too many walls built up in life. Too much separation. Humanity grows by uniting in love and life. However, history is fraught with conflict. That's why today is a day for celebration. Twenty-five years ago on November 9, 1985 the Berlin Wall came down

For many years Berlin was a divided city. The wall was constructed by the German Democratic Republic and that wall not only divided a city, but a country. It was a symbol of the Cold War and when it came down it became a recognition that people should be free.
Berlin Wall
Have you wondered what became of parts of the concrete wall? Many of the slabs are works of art, concrete canvasses on display in many countries and cities. Google, the search engine, has a video on its home page today that shows some of these wall portions. From Madrid to Kiev, Sofia to Washington D.C., Brussels to New York City, the graffiti and artwork display some of the passion for life and freedom shared by people of many lands, language and culture. It's a good day to let freedom ring.

Santana Bringing His Story to Light

November 5, 2014

Carlos Santana memoir The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to LightYesterday I heard an interview with Rock n' Roll Hall of Famer Carlos Santana. The extraordinary guitarist has an amazing story he is sharing with his just released memoir, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light.

In the interview on NPR, Santana speaks of his humble beginnings in Mexico. He dedicates his book to his mother. "I think she probably prayed for me more than anyone to keep me from getting lost", he said. And he also spoke about his father, his first teacher, a strict musician who had trouble showing gentleness, but helped instill an appreciation for music. It was in the small and often unsavory clubs of Tijuana that he really learned his craft.

Santana was always drawn to music, but he is also a very spiritual person. And he survived some sexual abuse as a child, something not easy to reveal or discuss. Additionally, Santana dealt with struggles in the United States before he found fame after Woodstock. The memoir is available now, including at, and should be a riveting read.

The Ancient Concept of Ethical Will is Getting New Life

November 3, 2014

I've mentioned the value and importance of Ethical Wills on more than one occasion. It is an ancient concept, this leaving in writing the values that matter most to you. It is an extremely valuable document treasured by loved ones. It dates back to at least Old Testament times for the Hebrew people.

Another article mentioning the importance and growing interest in ethical wills has appeared in the New York Times. In The Ethical Will, an Ancient Concept, is Revamped for the Tech Age by Constance Gustke, we again learn of personal historians encouraging people to create the ethical will. This is especially important for those facing terminal illness. Using more modern techniques, such as a PowerPoint slide show, shows there are various ways to create your ethical will.

Shadow Play

November 1, 2014

Here's something that might spark childhood memories. Remember how you used to make shadows on the wall? Perhaps it was with a flashlight in the bedroom and somebody showed you the way to make animal heads with your hand and fingers, such as a rabbit or dog.

Maybe you marveled on a sunny day at your shadow walking before you. Peter Pan thought it was sowed to the soles of his feet. That's probably a metaphor. Our shadow self is certainly part of our soul. Eventually we learn to deal with it, at least we do if we want to reconcile the dark and light within us all. It's not easy to face our shadow self. But we need to do some shadowdancing to grow as people. And when you are writing your life story you inevitably must look in the shadows. What we often resist writing about can hold some of the best story gold.

I was taking my dog, Shadow (that's his name), on a walk this afternoon. The sun was getting low on the horizon and that created a good shadow effect. I took this picture and uploaded it to Instagram because there is a #WHPshadowplay encouraging some shadow photos this weekend.
My dog, Shadow and I, with our shadows

The Magic of a Seventh Game

October 29, 2014

Tonight the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants will decide this year's baseball championship. It is the World Series and the ultimate treat for baseball fans - a seventh game!

The World Series is Major League Baseball's premiere event. The Fall Classic has a ton of history and the first team to win 4 games is the champ. Some best-of-seven series are over after four games. Known as a sweep, the winner takes out the other team in four straight games. The other possibilities depend on how many games are won by each team. When it comes down to this, both teams having won 3 games, it is the ultimate drama. A winner-takes-all event.

Although both Kansas City and San Francisco made the playoffs as their respective wild card game winners, the Royals are the surprise team this year. After all, the Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012 and are trying to keep that every other year pattern going with their third championship in five years. Both teams got hot at the right time, in October with playoff baseball.

The game this evening is in Kansas City and the fans are rabid for a win. The last time KC was in the World Series was 1985 and they won the championship that year. It's been a long dry spell since. I wrote a few days ago in my latest newsletter about connections with Kansas City, baseball and weddings. Just another peak inside my personal history. It's going to be interesting to watch the game and see how it all plays out. There is a certain magic in a seventh game and I'm looking forward to it!

Doorway Memory

October 20, 2014

Do you ever get up to go into another room intent on doing something...and once you are in that room you've completely forgotten why you went in there? Me, too! It happens more than I care to admit.

Well, before you get too upset at your fading short-term memory, you might want to read this blog post by APH member Jean Sheppard. She's had this problem and thought maybe it was just getting older and forgetting things when she discovered that science has been researching this and that there is actually a name for the memory lapses. It's called "the Doorway Effect" and it has something to do with how our brains process information when we go through doors into another room. I kid you not. Personally, I'm kind of glad I have something to blame it on, instead of just being forgetful.

Bill Cosby used to call it "butt memory", as in you have to go back to where you had the thought, sit down, and voila! Your idea returns to your brain's resident area memory (a little computer humor - RAM). Ori if you prefer, butt memory. 

Read Arch Support by Jean Sheppard. It's clever while passing on this useful information. Jean is another personal historian doing valuable work, and if her blog writing style is any indication she probably could help you add clever and interesting wording to your story. Her website is (and no, I'm not getting anything for mentioning her site except for perhaps satisfaction that more people will discover the benefits of life story preservation).

The Cockpit Camera Shots of World War I Pilots 

October 18, 2014

Some terrific photos of pilots-in-training for World War One, snapped in the cockpits of their biplanes, gives an interesting look back in time. A popular small camera from Kodak, the VPK (Vest Pocket Kodak) was used for many of the shots. I love the smiles and shining eyes of these young men clearly enjoying the flights. See more at mashable, courtesy of Retronaut.

Halfway Through Family History Month

October 15, 2014

Did you know that October is Family History Month? Yes, it is true - and if you are now just getting clued in to this you still have half of the month to do something about it.

Genealogists are more responsible for designating October Family History Month in the US than Personal Historians (who like to point to May as Personal History Awareness Month). But it is all basically the same thing. Find some way to research and preserve family history. There are many options, from a family tree to a photobook, write a memoir, record a video or interview an elder. Check out some of these tips and more at the FamilySearch Blog (more here).

Focus on Small Things and Build Your Story Around It

October 14, 2014

One of the challenges of many memoir writers is the "I" trap. Too much "me" in your narrative can make readers tune out. We don't want to sound too self-absorbed, even if the story is our story and mainly about us!

Sarah White, a Personal Historian and current President of the Association of Personal Historians (APH), gives a good tip to avoid this potential trap. She suggests you focus on certain objects and build around it. Find an heirloom or meaningful possession. Take the time to really examine it. Use your senses to describe it, the shape, texture, color, purpose and, most importantly, its significance to you and your story. It is a good writer's tip. Sarah shares her personal insight and experience with this technique in a post for the APH blog, Go a Big Way.

 Everybody has a story to tell!
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