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October, 2009

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October 31, 2009

Your "Scary" Story

It is Halloween, a holiday dedicated to spookiness and scary stuff, as well as treats like candy. People dress up in costume and you can celebrate being "someone else".

One of the traditions of this day is to tell or hear "ghost" stories and other tales that are scary. We are intrigued by the otherwordly and this time of year there are certain celebrations or occasions to honor and remember those who've passed on - died and gone on to whatever is next. Mexico and Latin America recognize Dia de los Muertos, the the Day of the Dead or "All Souls Day". Christians have "All Saints Day" on November 1 and moved it to this time of year as a response to the pagan festivities of Halloween (All Hallows Eve).

Does your family have ghost stories they retell? Perhaps you've worked somewhere that is considered "haunted". Billie Frank, Santa Fe Insider Travel Examiner, shares her story of working at a hotel in Santa Fe that is supposedly visited by the ghost of a nun who lived there when the Sister's of Loretto had a Catholic girl's school on the grounds. Many people have commented about the mysterious presence of Sister George.

Those scary stories can be interesting, amusing and engaging to share. But I am also thinking today about those parts of our story - our past - that we fear to share or even investigate.  Some of that past may not be appropriate to share, but when you are writing your memoir or life story those things that you have fear about are often important to investigate.  Where has fear held you back? And what are the circumstances when you face up to your fears? What happened? How did your life change when you took a path through the fear (not around it)?

Whether it was a childhood fear of the dark or something under your bed - or a greater fear of the unknown such as facing a difficult illness or taking on a new career - recalling those "scary" stories and recording them in your life story can be important. Now, perhaps many years later, you have perspective. You can see how you grew when you faced up to your fears. You can see how those experiences help you face new fears. And sharing this part of your story can be helpful to others who are facing similar fearful situations.

October 27, 2009

Cooking His Dad's Last Meal

It can be great when family members who've been estranged eventually get together again. A particularly poignant tale about renowned chef Thomas Keller preparing his father's last meal is a case in point.

Ed Keller was a towering former Marine drill sergeant and apparently quite the character. Father and son reunited after decades apart and "Big Ed" would show up at one of Thomas' restaurant to regale staff and customers with stories.  Unfortunately, a car accident broke his neck and left him a paraplegic. He wasn't expected to live more than a couple of months. But the son, along with his longtime companion, provided for him and the medical care he needed.

Thomas Keller, one of the world's great chefs, fixed his father's favorite meal of barbecued chicken and a lovely strawberry shortcake with a shot of Grand Marnier, one last time in the spring of 2008. The next night his father passed. The New York Times Story, What the Last Meal Taught Him, has the touching details.

October 25, 2009

Getting It "On the Record"

It is one thing to have great stories to share with family and friends. Many of us hear them at gatherings and often they get better with time and the re-telling. But if the "authors" of those stories die without the stories being preserved (orally, written down on video) we usually lose them. At the very least we lose the "first-hand" telling.

The local paper here in Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Journal, published an article about personal historians and preserving the story. It appeared in this month's Mature Life magazine (here). Rick Nathanson spoke with a few personal historians in New Mexico, including myself and Genevieve Russell of StoryPortrait Media.

It is gratifying to see media coverage grow about life story capture and preserving your personal and family history. Those of us working in this field continue to educate the public about what we do and why. The opportunity to work with a professional to finally save your stories is now greater than ever.

October 22, 2009

House History

Where you live certainly has an influence on your life - and your life story. Over the years I've lived in many houses. This was especially true growing up. Dad was in the Air Force and we moved frequently when I was young. We inhabitated our share of base houses, but also had some times living off-base. Sometimes this was because there weren't any houses on the Air Force base available and we'd be on the waiting list. Other times it was because Dad was deployed so we lived with the "civilians".

Base houses are built in blocks and like track houses are neighborhoods of pretty much the same structure, look and size. Military dependents have their own culture and as kids we'd all relate to moving around a lot. It made it difficult to create longlasting friendships, but most of us kids were also pretty resilient and quick to make new friends.

Some people have had the experience of growing up in one house for their entire childhood. Maybe there were multiple generations in the house. This provides a center of family history ready to be mined. We can learn a lot about our personal history by the houses we lived in. Here's an interesting article from the Muscatine Journal about a big home built in 1896 that was recently saved from the wrecking ball - and just in the nick of time.

An enjoyable short personal history book by Sharon Melton Lippincott, The Albuquerque Years - My Life As a Preschooler, includes significant details about the modest home she and her family lived in when she was a little girl. She recalls the layout, the various rooms, what the outside was like and ties memories to it. She even includes sketches of the floor plan as she remembers them. I think writing about where you lived and what those abodes were like are great ways to spark memories and make for good content in your story. Find out more about Sharon Lippincott at her The Heart and Craft of Life Writing site.

October 21, 2009

Happy day after National Day on Writing!

Somehow it flew below my radar (maybe I'd better get my radar checked), but I discovered today that yesterday was National Day on Writing. The day was initiated as such by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to encourage more writing (more here). That's always a good thing. You can visit the National Gallery of Writing, an online repository of writing created to accompany the special day. The United States Congress also got into the act and officially declared October 20, 2009 as the innaugural National Day on Writing.

Thanks to an email from NAMW - The National Association of Memoir Writers - I found out about this special day. Granted I didn't know until this morning when I checked my email. Monday was a blur of activity and I didn't get online much. But, Better late than never. The NAMW encourages you to write your story and to write from your heart and I heartily agree. Personal historians who specialize in life story capture are typically lovers of the written word. I certainly count myself in that category.

The official day may have passed, but everyday is a good day to write. If you haven't yet, go ahead and start. Write a poem, a short story, an essay, or a speech. Write in your journal. Heck, write an email! Putting words together is a useful skill and you might find you have a knack for it. As Linda Joy Myers, President & Founder of NAMW shares, "Writing is a way to know ourselves better, to live twice, to savor all over again the life we are living and have lived. It can also be healing, inspiring, and spiritually uplifting."

October 20, 2009

Ok, I know it's been a week since my last entry. Things have been quite busy and I'm going through "blog withdrawal". However, amidst all of my activity was the Duke City Half Marathon I ran on Sunday. Those of you who visit on a regular basis know this has been in support of cancer research. Team in Training is the organization that I trained with and raised money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I highly recommend them to anyone who wants to try an endurance event, such as running or walking a half or full marathon, cycling, triathlons and more. Great people and a great cause.

During the run on a beautiful Autumn day in Albuquerque I thought frequently about why I was doing the run. I ran in memory of those who've battled cancer. Rob, my brother-in-law, died of Leukemia in 1989. My mom passed from pancreatic cancer in June of 2006. And my best high school friend's brother succumbed to Leukemia in March of this year. Yes, cancer claims lives. But progress is also being made thanks to the fundraising through such organizations as Team in Training.

I also thought about the great stories of triumph. Many keep up the fight against their cancer and endure great hardship and they inspire us. Mike McCarthy is one of them. He was diagnosed with chornic lymphocytic leukemia in 2000 and has dealt with many rounds of treatment. He's been in remission and he runs quite well. He's even done the fabled Boston Marathon. He's about my age and I never met him before joining Team in Training three years ago. We got to talking and discovered we both went to High School in Upstate New York and both ran cross country. Turns out we probably ran in some of the same meets for our respective schools. Talk about your "small world"!

Our race on Sunday was also dedicated to the memory of Michelle Duesterhaus Tang. She was a dear friend of our running coach, Kelly. She recently lost her battle to cancer - in fact, just one week before our race on October 10. I hope you read her obituary - here. But know that her story is even bigger because of the way she lived, her dignity in her disease and the inspiration she gave others.

This is the lesson of this blog posting. Live life with gratitude for each day. Live it fully. Don't squander your precious moments. Share your amazing journey and memories. You have a story to tell and your family, friends - even the world - wants to know it!

October 13, 2009

The Willingness Quotient

As I was on my morning run I got thinking about my WQ. It's what I refer to as my Willingness Quotient. Like many people I sometimes have trouble getting started on projects. Or continuing to make progress. The key to getting into action for me is often finding the willingness to start.

How do you generate this? Is there a special formula?

Well, I can't say there is a magic bullet. But experience has taught me that if I just start doing whatever activity I am supposed to I often find that I get involved and motivated. The action spurs me on - this is especially true with writing. But getting started is hard. When it is I find it important to gauge my WQ. If I'm having trouble finding the willingness I remind myself that it only takes a little bit to rev me up.

Regarding your life story work - set small goals. Do something for your project on a regular basis. Measure your progress. Remind yourself how good it feels to have recorded or written about a special memory. And be assured that your willingness will create action - and action feeds results. And if you need a coach, consultant, motivator or ghost writer consider the many benefits. Personal historians like to do this kind of work and we will keep you on track and even help you find some willingness to keep going.

Sometimes is just comes down to being willing to be willing.

October 12, 2009

APH 2009 Annual Conference

Association of Personal HistoriansThis year's Association of Personal Historians annual conference will be held on October 21-25, 2009 at the Radisson Hotel-Valley Forge/King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

I would love to be there, but circumstances are such that I will not be this year. However, I am watching the preparations through the email exchange and social media activity of the APH members.  It is always a great event and if you are someone interested in working in the field of personal history you would find it very advantageous to attend.

Since it is just a little over a week till the event you would want to finalize your travel plans and register for the event. I promise to pass along some news as I get it from attendees.

For more information, go to the conference page on the APH site.

October 7, 2009

What's the Wiki on Personal Historians?

The term personal historian is still one that raises eyebrows when I tell people I am one. But once I get talking and explaining about life story capture most think it is a great idea and occupation.

I came across a WikiAnswers to "What do you need to do to become a personal historian?" and it includes some excellent insights (here).

Personal Historians work in a number of ways. There are lots of options from books to video to websites and more.

October 6, 2009

It wasn't hard to be inspired for my morning run today. The Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is underway and there were many colorful balloons to see as I ran 3.5 miles.

My shoes are getting a bit ragged. I've logged easily a couple of hundred miles with them since signing up five months ago with Team in Training to fundraise for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I will run a half-marathon on October 18 here in Albuquerque. And it is good to once again be helping to fight blood cancers.

Susan Hessel personal historianThe battle against cancer is fought on many fronts. Most people know someone who has cancer. I was touched today via email. A fellow personal historian is currently battling breast cancer. I don't personally know Susan T. Hessel. But I see her posts to the Association of Personal Historians (APH) ListServe. And I visited her poignant and often hilarious blog where she writes about her life, her cancer, and most recently about her "advance directive" (the next step in a living will). She will be on the PBS show Now this weekend - from an interview she did speaking on the subject of advance directives (more here). She is an inspiration and it confirms to me once again the quality of human being that is attracted to life story work. Surf over to her "Pinky Pie" blog.

October 5, 2009

Where the Boomers are Retiring

Fall is in the air and the migratory pattern of geese and other birds is such that you may likely be seeing them flying overhead. The migratory pattern for retiring Baby Boomers is the gist of an article from

It seems that much of the affluent segment of now-and-future retirees want a place in the country. The highrise in an urban center is not for them. They want scenic vistas, places to roam and the pace of small town life to enjoy their golden years.

Researchers are predicting that by 2020 the population of 55- to 75-year-olds in rural areas will nearly double from 2000, swelling to more than 14.2 million. This can mean opportunity for those who will cater to them in the country. It also means small towns will need to keep up their medical facilities as well as preparing for a growing involvement from the largest demographic in our American society.

October 2, 2009

School Histories

With school back in full swing here's an idea that I'd like to see more schools and centers of education consider: a history of their school.

This type of project could take a variety of shapes. A class could do it as a project and focus on their class over the years, or a group of classmates could reminisce about their experience at a school. Schools could tell the story of how they came into existence and where the future is leading them. Colleges adn Universities might be bigger and more sophisticated histories. But the little school house down the road, or the history of a growing school district would be very different. Lots of ideas (spurred on by a discussion from some fellow Association of Personal Historian members).

Everybody has a story to tell!
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