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August, 2013

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Obama's Grandparents Oral History

August 27, 2013

Stanley and Madelyn Dundham. Maybe you've never heard of them. They grew up high school classmates in Augusta, Kansas. They married on the night of her senior prom and when Pearl Harbor was bombed not long after that, Stanley joined the Army. Madelyn did her part for the war effort, too, working at Boeing. This couple gave birth to Stanley Ann in Wichita, Kansas on November 20, 1942. She grew up and had a son who is now the President of the United States.

The Kansas roots of President Barack Obama's grandparents have been preserved as part of a nonpartisan committee working on an oral history project since 2009. Jackie Vietti of Butler Community College commented, “Individually and collectively, if we do not capture, honor and celebrate our roots, we will never be as good as we can be in the future. We did not intend to write the history, but we did intend to capture it, to honor and remember to celebrate a Kansas president’s heritage that ties directly to Butler County. We want to educate and inspire our children so they can learn from a president’s heritage as well as their own that they can do and be anything when they grow up. It is important for us to tell the world our Kansas roots matter and we are very proud of them.”

Now a video celebrating those family roots has been put out (story here). If not for projects like this much personal and family history might be lost. It's readily apparent why attempts are made to preserve the family history of US Presidents. But there is every bit of need to do so for those living lives of less celebrity status. Every person has a story and every family matters.

Grandparents Day is just around the corner (September 8).  Grandparents are special people. I know this from experience. I had good grandparents who shared about their lives with me. I've also witnessed my parents and my wife's parents interact with our children. And now my wife and are grandparents twice over. Wouldn't it be a nice gift to help preserve the family history of grandparents? Do it for the future generations.

School Clerk Tells Gunman Her Life Story and He Lays Down Weapons

August 21, 2013

It could have been another tragic chapter in school violence. Brandon Hill, 20, was armed with an assault rifle and other weapons when he entered a Decatur, Georgia elementary school. Fortunately the courage of a school clerk and the power of her life story ended up persuading the gunman to surrender without anyone getting hurt. I like to tell people that preserving your personal history saves a life, but that is meant metaphorically. What Antoinette Tuff did is a dramatic example of a life story saving many lives.

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VoiceFlame Empowering the Women of Malawi

August 19, 2013

For the voice that asks to be heard.
The self that asks to be known.
The story that asks to be shared.
The legacy that asks to be lived.
We come together under the same sky

That's what you see posted at the top right corner of the VoiceFlame website. The organization is dedicated to to the empowerment of the girls and women of Malawi. Much of their work is centered on getting them to write about themselves. Our lives are the source of many stories and any teacher will tell you that writing about yourself helps you grow. You look inward and share your thoughts, feelings and experiences. It can be very powerful and a way to discover much about your life.

I am not connected to VoiceFlame in anyway, but several years ago I did help Good New Ministries with some webwork regarding their mission efforts in Malawi. This African country may be small with many struggles, but it is full of life. So when I came across a story about VoiceFlame and the work they were doing encouraging the sharing of life stories I was impressed. Read some of the women's words and you will discover some gut-level honesty. There are hardships and triumphs.

The Surprise Factor

August 15, 2013

I am almost through my first week of teaching. My new 5th graders are learning about math, science, social studies and language arts. But they are also learning about their teacher. I think I am probably catching them by surprise sometimes. In fact - I hope so!

Surprises can be fun. They can also throw you off balance. In our lives we often get surprised. Sometimes it is the unexpected visit of a friend we haven't seen in a while. Or it could be a taste sensation you really like but didn't expect from the food item. At other times it is the awe when you view an amazing sunrise or watch a baby's first steps.

There are also surprises we don't like so much. A bad health diagnosis. News that you are being laid off from work. Your car needs repairs you can't afford.

How are you using the surprise factor in your life story? Good memoir writing should borrow from creative writing techniques. The element of surprise, such as a plot twist can be an effective way to up the appeal of an experience you want to share.

One of the techniques I use with my students is to have them reflect on what surprised them in a given day. The first week of school is a ripe occasion.  Today I asked them what they've been surprised about this week. Responses varied from "math is easy" (it won't stay that way) to "the cafeteria was really loud" (they get to eat with the middle school 6,7, & 8th graders this year) to "I didn't know we needed to be so organized".  I found it interesting feedback and there are some potential writing prompts in these replies.

How about you - any surprises that you should be including in your story? It's another way to think about your life story. Do some brainstorming, then some journaling and finally...write about it. Go ahead, surprise us.

Breaking Bad End Is Near

August 11, 2013
Breaking Bad billboard thanks Albuquerque
I admit it. I am a "Breaking Bad" junkie. And it's not just because I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fans of the show know that is the location where the story takes place, and it is very interesting to me and other 'Burque locals to see Albuquerque and New Mexico sights in each episode. However, I was hooked into the show long before that became common knowledge. This was when the second season was airing. I have to give credit to my son for turning me onto to the show. He was a fan of the exploits of Walter White and the rest of the unusual cast of characters back during the first season.

"Breaking Bad" is a television show that has quite a following. I think it is because of the great story line. Watching a former high school chemistry teacher with cancer go to the dark side by cooking meth and selling it to pay his medical costs is an interesting motive. We have watched as Walter White has gone increasingly "bad" over the life of the story. It has a lot of people wondering how their moral compass might hold up if faced with similar circumstances. And we are captivated by how the lives of Walt's family and associates on both sides of the law deal with the plot twists and turns. It is great drama and a very well written show.

What it has to do with life story writing was chronicled by me on this blog a year ago. And it still holds true. How do we face our demons, our secrets and the skeletons in our closet? How do the choices we make in life affect us and others?

It has been a long wait for the show's final episodes and we get the first one tonight. I most certainly will be watching.

The Inspirational Story of Zach Sobiech Will Be Told by His Mother

August 8, 2013

When faced with the news of a terminal illness it takes great courage and perseverance to choose to consciously leave a positive message. The perspective Zach Sobiech shared with the world with his song, Clouds, and his approach to life following the diagnosis of cancer that took his life at age 18 is full of inspiration.

Now his mother, Laura Sobiech, has a book deal with Thomas Nelson to write an inspirational story about her son. "After Zach died, I started writing," Laura Sobiech said. "I've been thinking about writing for a long time because I think there is a story underneath what everybody has heard that should be told, too. I've always been more interested in the spiritual side of things and that thread of what God did for us and for Zach, so that was the story that I wanted to tell."

Beyond monetary gain or notoriety and fame, this is a powerful driving force for a life story. Sharing how we face great challenges without giving in to a totally negative end story is something we all should do. Read the article and watch a brief video of Zach online at

When We Cheat

August 6, 2013

Baseball player Alex Rodriguez suspended for cheatingThe news story of baseball players caught cheating because of their use of performance enhancement substances has once again grabbed sporting headlines. A dozen players have been handed suspensions, most of them given a 50 game penalty for their involvment in the Biogenesis Clinic scandal.

When athletes use illegal doping means to get an edge in their performance it taints their sport. But on top op that it raises some issues about ethics, integrity and telling the truth. Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees third baseman, has over the years collected a lot of hits, including 647 home runs, the 5th highest all time. He's also baseball's highest paid player ever. So his motivation for fighting the 211 game ban handed down by Major League Baseball is undoubtedly money driven. Interestingly, the other suspended players are accepting their punishment without appeal.

Why do people (not just athletes) cheat? From politicians, corporate CEO's and celebrities to everyday Joes and Janes, people get caught cheating. People cheat on tests, on taxes and on their significant others. The motivations vary. Some people fess up, admit their wrongs and try to make amends. Others try to rationalize or wiggle out of any wrongdoing. It's all very interesting, particularly in light of the life stories we tell ourselves and others.

I write this post to have you consider the subject. Have you ever cheated? If so, why and how? Did you get caught? Have you changed your ways? How do you feel about it now? These are not easy questions. But when it comes to writing honestly abour your life, they need to be asked. Perhaps a cheating situation is a story you will never share in writing. However, tales of human failing, and especially the path to redemption, are rich lessons for all of us. Nobody is perfect. We all have feet of clay. If you've ever faced a turning point brought about by your cheating in some fashion you might have a significant lesson to share that can be both a warning and and apology.

The Rise of Centenarians

August 1, 2013

I have no idea how long I will live. But according to U.S. Census Bureau predictions, by 2050 there will be over a million centenarians. That's people living to the magnificent age of 100.

100 years. A full century. Those who've lived that long have seen amazing changes in our world. Who knows what it will be like at the end of 2055? That's the year, if I live that long, I would become a centenarian.

The number of people living to be 100 years old or older is on the rise. The Generation Above Me blog posted about it a couple of days ago and mentioned the birthday celebration for Gladys Bever of Kansas, now 103 and still going strong. From what the post said about her she's lived a fascinating life; I can't imagine that not being true for any centenarian.

The National Centenarian Awareness Project, founded in 1989 by Lynn Peters Adler. There is a wealth of information on their website, along with their Live to 100 and Beyond blog. 

Obviously centenarians are rich sources of historical information and we need to get their stories. Give this consideration for any hundred year old relatives or friends. While you are at it, you might consider your own story, especially if you think you might be part of the rise of centenarians in the next thirty years.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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