Sunday, December 6, 2009

Best Workshop of 2009

I went to a terrific writing workshop just a few weeks ago with Barbara Sher, who wrote Wishcraft and lots of other great books on finding your dream and getting it. She offers the workshop as part of a WriteSpeak program to help people like me become writers and speakers. That is the program I completed this spring, which was responsible in large part for my writing & publishing Granny's Guide to Fun & Fabulous Family Stories.

The workshop was held at lovely old Saluda Inn in Saluda, NC, for 15 eager wannabe writers. One of the greatest benefits of such a small group was having close interaction with Barbara herself. The woman was amazing at helping me hone in on the message for my next book.

It will be to help people write their own stories about end-of-life concerns, whether from their own perspective (such as Randy Pausch), their experiences with someone else (perhaps in Hospice), or dealing with the sudden loss of someone. I hesitated about tackling such a morbid topic, but since my friend died last year and my mother-in-law recently, I feel a pull in that direction. My first book is more playful and intended to help people have fun writing their family stories. Dealing with death is definitely not a fun topic, but a very important one.

As a Personal Historian, I deal with many older customers and those who know they have limited time remaining. With my passion for getting people to think about and save their family stories, this second book will be even more appropriate for dealing with serious matters.

Have you been to a really good workshop this year? If more than one, what was your best workshop, and why? I'd love to hear from you. #best09

Friday, December 4, 2009

Best Book of 2009 (Mine)

Okay, for all of you who may not know me, I wrote & published a book this year called Granny's Guide to Fun & Fabulous Family Stories, which shows people how to capture their own family stories. In a bit of purely selfish sel-promotion, I do have to admit that it's my favorite book of the year - surprise!

There are three great things about the book:
1. You can capture stories that you experienced or you can interview someone else to get their stories.
2. You can involve all members of the family from the oldest to the youngest. It makes a terrific family project for all ages.
3. There is still time to get an autographed copy from my website for holiday gift-giving. Just check out

Best Trip of 2009

Okay, thanks to Gwen Bell's suggestion, I am participating in the Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. See for the daily prompts for blogging. I won't likely blog every day, but some of the topics are very appealing.

My best trip this year had to be driving to North Carolina from Illinois at the peak of Fall color. The bad news was the giant rock slide that completely blocked I-40 near N Caro. I took a two-lane detour instead of the recommended interstate version to enjoy the scenery.

Little did I know that I would lose a great deal of time following a car that braked for every single curve, and there were tons of curves going through the mountains. At one point, I was finally able to pass the car in a passing lane. As I rounded the next curve, I was smack behind a transit bus.

I busted out laughing and said, "Okay, God, I guess you want me to slow down & enjoy the scenery!" Once I made that decision, the rest of the trip was absolutely lovely. However, for the return trip, I decided to follow the interstate detour to save some time. #best09

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Fun

This week is the perfect time to work with children and grandkids about what they remember and like best about Thanksgiving. One family custom we enjoy is to go around the dinner table and have everyone tell what they are most grateful for this year. Even young children catch on quickly to the idea.

Preserving Thanksgiving stories is easy with the use of my simple Keepsake for Kids ebook, which is available at no cost on my website, in the Products tab. Kids can write their own responses to the prompts or work with an adult. Then they can either draw something about what they remember or attach a photograph.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What's YOUR Story?

Okay, everyone has a story to tell, but what is YOUR story? What do you want to make sure that your kids and grandkids know and remember about you? We recently had a death in our family and besides the regret of losing someone we love is the regret that we never got the real story about the time they ...

One of my very favorite stories to gather from married couples is about how they met, married and spent their early life together. Often times, that story dovetails in with the Great Depression and World War II, so they always have fascinating tidbits about how they handled challenges and even thrived during such times of turmoil.

As one of my clients pointed out recently, they just took life in stride, both the good and the bad. "That's the way it was for everyone, so you just dealt with it." No whining, no complaining, no blaming someone else. Perhaps that is what made them the Greatest Generation as Tom Brokaw called them in his book of the same name. Tom Brokaw said, "When the United States entered World War II, the U.S. government turned to ordinary Americans and asked of them extraordinary service, sacrifice, and heroics..."

Whether you have endured life-threatening hardships or triumphed over minor catastrophies, your stories are an important part of you and your heritage. Make an effort today to share your story with someone you love.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Kankakee Author Signing

By becoming a devotee of Barbara Sher ( and following her excellent advice during her fabulous WriteSpeak program, I am pleased to announce my 3rd Author Signing for the book I completed this spring! Here are the details, just in case you know anyone in the Kankakee, IL, area.

Author Signing
Saturday, Oct. 24, 1-3 PM CDT
at Love Christian Center Bookstore
249 S Schuyler Ave.
Kankakee, IL 60901

My book is Granny's Guide to Fun & Fabulous Family Stories and shows everyone how to capture THEIR OWN family stories (or to interview their elders and involve kids as young as 8) and to have FUN doing it. For more information about the book and suggestions on how to get started with your own stories, please see my website below.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to become a Personal Historian

Have you ever wondered how you can become a Personal Historian? Here is a quick explanation for you: in Wiki. There is also a wealth of excellent information on the website for APH - the Association of Personal Historians:, of which I am a member.

The important thing is to start writing. And who better for your first client than yourself or someone you already know? You'll be amazed at how much more you will learn about yourself and them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ethical Will Writing Workshop

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of conducting an Ethical Will Writing Workshop for a group of some 50 Seniors at Oak Lawn Community High School. They were all part of Creative Writing classes led by Ms. Jennifer Jepsen and Ms. Erika Buys.

The two classes are working on autobiographies that concentrate less on the mundane parts of life (when they were born, where they lived, siblings, etc.) and more about who they are and who/what has shaped them. That is a fantastic assignment for anyone, but especially for these young adults as they prepare to enter the real world outside of high school.

The purpose of an Ethical Will is to create a spiritual letter for family, friends and colleagues that shares the writer's sense of self. There are no hard and fast rules for what an Ethical Will should contain, but usually it consists of some or all of the following elements: 1) Values, 2) Gratitude, 3) Life Lessons, 4) Achievements & Hopes, 5) Favorites and 6) Advice.

The students used the first writing exercise to create a rough draft of an Ethical Will. After a discussion of the basic writing process (Brainstorming, Rough Draft, Revisions, Editing and Publishing), they used the second writing exercise to revise and edit their initial document. Part of their grade was based on the improvements from the rough draft to the more polished version. Eventually, the Ethical Will is to be incorporated into their individual autobiographies.

What struck me most about these exercises was the depth of feeling that several of the students expressed. It was gratifying to see how they had taken the assignment to heart and shared some of their most innermost thoughts. When the project has been completed, I hope to share some of their work with you as fine examples of personal history writing.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

4 Steps to Super Stories from Food & Family

Many of my most vivid memories relate to food. I loved all the family gatherings when I was a kid. With six brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all living in a relatively small area, we seemed to get together every week. If the occasion was not for a complete meal, then there had to be “lunch” served with coffee and a variety of scrumptious sweets. I dearly loved sitting quietly nearby so I could hear everyone talk and tell their stories.

To this day, I can’t see or smell cinnamon rolls without thinking of Mom and all her delicious baked goods. Grandma always kept a clear glass container like a huge brandy snifter in the center of her table, filled to the brim with several kinds of homemade cookies. Whenever she felt we didn’t eat the cookies quickly enough, she topped all of them with chocolate icing.

Connected with those fabulous food memories are the memorable family stories that were told and retold. I never tired of hearing favorite stories from bygone days. Food is one great way to open up a treasure chest of memories.

1. Get the stories behind the food

What do you think of when asked about your favorite food? Is it something that your grandmother made, like apple crisp? Or is it your Uncle Pete’s awesome barbecued ribs? Or how about your neighbor’s chocolate fudge? Or is it something you make yourself, like a peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich? One of my own family favorites is fresh lemon meringue pie, which Mom made better than anyone else.

Whatever it is, everyone has favorite foods. Many of these foods make us think of when we were younger. But did you ever wonder about the stories behind the food? Who came up with the original recipe for apple crisp? And who on earth decided to add raisins or nuts to it? You can get some wonderful stories when you ask the cooks questions like these.

2. Use the power of food to recall memories

Food can be a powerful trigger to help you recall memories. If someone mentions pumpkin pie, do you think of Thanksgiving dinner? Do gingerbread cookies remind you of Christmas? Do hard-boiled eggs lead to thoughts of Easter? Whenever I see pecan pie, I always think about shelling pecans by the bushel (it sure seemed like a bushel, anyway) so we’d have pecans all winter.

You can use food to remind your family circle of stories you want to hear. One idea is to throw a cookie baking party. Everyone has fun, you get to make cookies (or pizza, or pretzels, or whatever you like best) and you dig up stories from the past. Best of all, you get to enjoy your favorite foods and favorite people at the same time.

Whenever people get together, they like to talk and tell stories. You will have a chance to ask questions like the ones at the end of this book. And you can make up your own questions, too. Just remember to either write down what people say or use a recorder to capture it. That’s a whole lot easier than trying to remember all the details later.

3. Use family gatherings for more story-telling

Any gathering of your friends and family is a great chance to capture more stories. Many times, this is a fun opportunity for group discussions. Getting people to talk about their favorite foods will always lead to good memories. Ask about the first time Aunt Alice made a favorite recipe like macaroni and cheese and burned it. Where did she learn how to fix it? Some families may have their own idea of what a dish should be like. For example, one family may like macaroni and cheese from the blue box, but another family might be disappointed if they didn’t get it homemade from scratch with three kinds of cheese. They’re all keys to opening up those memories.

4. Combine family stories and recipes

One way to capture family stories and recipes is to make a little cookbook of your favorite foods. Then you can add stories to go along with the recipes. It is fun to show the original recipe and who made it. Then show any changes that other people made to it.

To get stories from your family circle, you can ask each of them to write down their favorite recipe onto a card. Make sure they include the directions as well. On the other side of the recipe card, ask them to write a few notes about where the original recipe came from. They might also like to give you a photo of the food or the original cook.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Whose View Is True?

Sarah commented about stories that conflict with historical events and she is exactly right. Personal stories are basically true, even when a few facts get jumbled. We need to keep in mind that the version of the story we are hearing (or telling) is one person's perception of what happened.

Any police officer can tell you how a room full of potential witnesses all see a slightly (or hugely) different view of what happened. With my six brothers and sisters, we all remember events just a bit differently. Rather than causing conflict, I like to think of it as seeing the world thru multiple lenses. Of course, that doesn't help at all in the courtroom.

One person may view the world with rose-colored glasses, while others see the glass as half full or half empty. Regardless of the bare facts, passing time tends to fade our memories. That's when a little research can help to fill in the gaps and put things into a more realistic perspective.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Time Line for Personal Histories

Often when I start a personal history for a client, I create a simple timeline of their lives so I can relate their experiences to external events that have helped shape them. In fact, since I started writing personal histories, I've learned more about history & world events in general than I ever learned in school. I guess that personal connection makes all the history seem more real and significant.

Think about some of the elders in your group of friends and family. If they are old enough to have experienced WWI, the Great Depression, WWII and the atomic bomb, you can get some fabulous stories from them.

One of my dearest relatives has Alzheimer's disease, but I recently had an amazing conversation with her. She was "living" in the past almost 50 years ago. As I gently asked her questions about how she met her husband and the wedding dances they used to attend, I saw a side of her I had never seen before. She even giggled(!) when she said, "...then he came right over and asked ME to dance, instead of Rosie." It was a thrill to see her relive that experience.

So make it a point to go see an old friend or relative and ask them questions about what they remember. Don't wait too long, though. Our precious older generation is quickly fading away.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Who Do You Trust?

I just bought Trust Agents, @chrisbrogan's new book about earning trust on the web. Here's the link: I love the concept because there is so much misinformation on the internet and how do you determine which is reliable?

Chris Brogan's daily blogs offer excellent advice on cultivating and maintaining professional relationships, as well as tips on using the latest social media. Having read and followed them for quite some time, I am looking forward to mining his savvy information even further.

In our own relationships, whether they are personal, professional or political(!), being able to trust someone is incredibly important. So the question is, who do you trust? And how do you determine who is trustworthy?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Great Free Resources

A fellow member of APH (Association of Personal Historians), Dan Curtis, had a fabulous blog yesterday that has a wealth of free resources for Personal Historians and writers in general. See

Dan did a great job of pulling together this list and then graciously sharing it with his readers and associates. It's always a treat to discover websites that are new and useful. I plan to use #24 on my next article: "Wordcounter – ranks the most frequently used words in any given body of text. Use this to see what words you overuse." No more excuses now for being redundant.

Isn't that a cool idea?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Join the National Lightning Bug Research Project

Karen left a comment about my lightning bug blog. "Professionally, I was a chemistry teacher for many years, and continued to find the topic of light-releasing biochemical reactions interesting."

You might be interested to know that The National Children's Museum has teamed up with the Museum of Science in Boston on a project to get children involved in observing fireflies in their areas and submitting data to a national research program. Their website is where you can sign up for the project.

In addition to a charming & appropriate name, the website is fun and creative for kids and parents. As an example, they have some cute but corny jokes about fireflies, such as "Q: Why was the firefly mother so unhappy? A: Because her children weren’t very bright." They make learning a great adventure.

Surprisingly, not a lot of research has been done on the subject of lightning bugs. With luck and lots of volunteers, that may change over the next few years. So if you live in an area of the country that has fireflies, consider getting your kids involved on this quirky project. And you can still save them in a glass jar for a little while. The bugs, that is, not the kids! lol - have fun.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quick & Easy Scrapless Scrapping

Patty asked "Is there some sort of shortcut for those of us who don't need another 10 hour a week hobbby?" and that is a valid concern. She is absolutely right that getting into scrapbooking can be quite time- and money-consuming. But there are other ideas that you might try as well.

One quick idea is to get a photo album that has sleeves for pictures. Just slip in a group of photos and intersperse them with a few mementoes (such as ticket stubs, flyers, postcards, etc.) and/or journaling, either hand written or printed on your computer. The journaling doesn't have to be elaborate, but jotting down a few details will provide reminders so everyone can enjoy the event again at a later date.

That gives you a relatively fast & easy way to preserve your memories without spending a great deal of time or effort. Please let me know if that seems feasible for you.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Scared to Start Scrapbooking?

Patty commented on my previous blog asking two great questions: “Any suggestions for those of us who missed the scrapbooking craze? Where's the best place to get ideas for scrapbook page layouts?”

I was fortunate to have a friend who helped me start scrapping, but you can do it on your own as well. One of the best websites I have found with more extensive suggestions on getting started is which has well-organized information and examples.

Minimum requirements for scrapbooking:
1. Cardstock and Paper
a. Cardstock & paper come in various sizes, such as 12”x12”, 8”x8”, etc., and are acid-free. Standard scrapbooking albums usually come with a cardstock page inside page protectors.
b. Cardstock is heavy paper in solid colors that can be used to create greeting cards or to form the base of your scrapbook page.
c. Scrapbooking paper comes in solid colors and/or patterns to use for borders, frames & a splash of color.
d. Select a few sheets of cardstock and paper that appeal to you. You may want to coordinate them with the photos you plan to use.

2. Good Scissors
a. Good sharp scissors are important to cleanly cutting photos, paper and cardstock.
b. Eventually, you may want to get a paper trimmer that simplifies getting square cuts.
c. For consistent fancy edges, you may want scissors

3. Adhesive
a. A wide range of scrapbooking adhesives is available, but make sure your selection is also acid-free. Perhaps the easiest type to start with is the small double-sided glue dots. Later, you may want to buy an adhesive applicator that speeds up the process.
b. Check out the website above for details on the various types, along with the pros and cons of each.

4. Journaling Pen
a. Journaling pens should be acid-free like all scrapbooking supplies.
b. You can start with black pens in a fine tip for writing and a wider tip for page titles.
c. Journaling can describe the photos or event highlighted on the page. This is a great way to capture the essence of what you want the reader to know.

Making your first scrapbooking page:
1. Before using adhesive . . .

a. Roughly lay out all the parts of the page in a way that pleases you.
b. Decide how much journaling you want on the page and write it neatly on cardstock.

2. Select Photos
a. Trim any photos to the size and shape desired.
b. Decide which photos need a mat of color behind them.
c. Remember that “less is more” in scrapbooking. A few photos tell the story on a page.

3. Select Cardstock Background
a. Cardstock determines the overall size of your page.
b. You can cut cardstock to frame photos or journaling by cutting it slightly larger in a contrasting or coordinating color.

4. Select Paper Highlights
a. Colorful paper makes a nice border around the cardstock page or on the edges.
b. Consider coordinating the paper between facing pages in an album.

5. Lay Out Final Page
a. Arrange all the parts onto the page, rearranging as needed.
b. When pleased with the layout, use adhesive to affix each part to the page.

6. Add Embellishments
a. Embellishments can spice up your pages after you affix all other items.
b. Consider using sheets of small self-adhesive stickers, labels and shapes for added pizzazz.

Making a Simple Greeting Card:
1. Greeting cards are made in the same basic way as a scrapbooking page.
2. After you select the cardstock, crease it down the center and fold it in half.
3. Affix a favorite photo to the front (or inside) with a few words of your choice.
4. Write your desired greeting on more cardstock and fasten inside the card.
5. Add embellishments, such as ribbons or self-adhesive stickers.

Making cards and scrapbooking pages can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. These ideas will get you started, but there is an amazing amount of information available in bookstores, craft and scrapbooking shops, as well as on the internet. Many libraries, schools and communities offer events such as “Scrappers Night Out” where you can learn from other people. Check your local newspaper for offerings.

Have fun with scrapbooking and card making to your heart’s content. They make wonderful gifts for friends, family and yourself! And they are a great way to capture some of your family history.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gifts for the Elderly

A friend asked me today for gift ideas for her grandmother's 90th birthday. Most elderly people don't need any more "stuff" but they'd appreciate knowing how they made a difference in someone's life.

Here are some simple ideas to get you started on thinking "outside the box" when it comes to gift giving:
1. Write a little story with a few memories of things you have done together.
2. Create your own greeting card with your own thoughts & words, with a favorite photo.
3. If you have time, you can make a scrapbook page with photos & some journaling, then frame it for them to keep.
4. Make a favorite recipe from your childhood, such as strawberry pie or chocolate chip cookies.
5. When you take them the gift, spend some time reminiscing about family get-togethers and the events you remember.
6. If you can't spend time with them on their birthday, then please call them. Too often our loved ones sit and wait for us to stop by or call. Go ahead - make their day (and yours, too!) by talking with them often.


1 Cup Water
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Cup Sugar
4 Tablespoon Strawberry Gelatin (or one package Sugar-Free)
2-3 drops Red Food Coloring
1 Pint Strawberries
1 baked Pie Shell
Cool Whip, if desired

Cook first 5 ingredients until thickened, then cool.

Wash & hull berries and fold into cooled Glaze.

Pour into cooled Pie Crust.

Serve with Cool Whip, if desired.

8 Servings

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fantastic Fruit Fly Trap - Try It!

Rachel Balducci had a nice post recently that suggested how to deal with those annoying fruit flies at She said to use a jar with a cone-shaped paper (just like we use in our coffee maker!) to trap them inside a jar with a piece of very ripe fruit in the bottom.

Having nothing to lose and a kitchen counter overflowing with ripening fruit with, yes, you guessed it, lots of fruit flies, I decided to give it a shot. Try this the next time you have the little pests and let me know how it works:

1. Put an overripe piece of peach (or other aromatic fruit) in the bottom of a pint jar
2. Cut a tiny hole in the tip of a paper filter cone (or make one yourself)
3. Set the paper cone pointy-side down into the jar
4. Fasten the cone around the top of the jar with a rubber band

Wait a day or so, then check the jar regularly for tiny critters. When they appear, take the jar outside, remove the paper cone and release the bugs. If you still have any fruit flies buzzing around, set up the trap again.

I was quite pleasantly surprised at how nicely this idea worked. After a short time, there were no more nasty fruit flies, but if they reappear, I won't hesitate to use it again. Good luck hunting!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Frantic About Fruit Flies?

Rachel Balducci had a nice post today about how to deal with those annoying fruit flies at Consider reading her whole post.

She has a great idea of using a jar with a cone-shaped paper (just like we use in our coffee maker!) to trap those annoying fruit flies inside a jar with a piece of very ripe fruit in the bottom. We are having such a wonderful abundance of yummy fruit this year, that the flies are woefully abundant as well. So I can hardly wait to try Rachel's suggestion - today!

I have had good luck with peaches to let them ripen inside a small brown paper sack (or bag, depending on your geographic region, as my daughter-in-law from California pointed out last week) folded closed at the top. At least that seems to keep the bugs out until they are just perfectly ripened.

We have been enjoying red raspberries, black raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, apricots, plums and even yellow plums. In fact, my countertop looks like a rainbow exploded into colorful shards. We are so lucky to have such a variety available to us on a regular basis.

Whenever I look at all this luscious fruit, I can't help but recall my childhood when we canned and froze dozens of jars and freezer bags (yes, bags, not sacks) to store the abundance of summer to enjoy during the long winter months.

The next time you savor a delicious piece of fruit, think about what memories it evokes. Do you remember the first time you had an exotic fruit, for example? I'd love to hear what memories you recall.

Viva le fruit! lol

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bugged by Mosquitoes

Arwen Mosher wrote a blog today that resonated for me about another common summertime pest. You can read it here at

I understand completely about how irritating it is to be among the favored food groups for mosquitoes. I have found two things that help, if you can apply them shortly after getting bit. 1) Cortizone-10 Ointment or another anti-itch remedy helps a lot and 2) MSG applied to a moistened bite also helps. Normally, I keep the Cortizone in my purse at all times & apply it right away.

Unfortunately, I dashed out for just a minute the other evening to get the mail & got sidetracked by a neighbor with a brand new baby. Of course I was thrilled to chat with them, but not to become a mosquito magnet. So I ended up with half a dozen welts that didn't respond to my usual treatment. Now I have ugly scabs up & down my legs that remind me of my childhood. As a tomboy, I always seemed to have scratches, scars & scabs decorating my arms & legs.

Those are the types of memories that linger long after we have grown up. I encourage people to capture all those memories by either writing or recording them. They become precious stories to pass on to your families. Please see my website for easy ways to get started.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lightning Bugs or Fireflies?

We happen to have an amazing abundance of lightning bugs in Illinois this year. Or maybe you refer to them as fireflies. Something I didn't realize is that they don't live in every section of the country.

Our son and daughter-in-law are visiting from the San Fransisco Bay area in California. When we all returned from dinner last night, they were both thrilled to see hundreds and hundreds of the little creatures flying around. That's when I found out they don't have lightning bugs in California. What a shame! I have always enjoyed seeing them light up the yard or glitter over the corn and soybean fields in the country.

As we all reminisced about catching fireflies when we were young, I thought about all the countless times I had chased & caught the sparkling bugs to try to save in a glass jar. Even though we punched holes in the lid & added in some grass & twigs, unfortunately, lightning bugs cannot be saved in a bottle.

So whether it was with all my brothers and sisters when I was a kid, with my own son or grandchildren, or more recently with our grown kids, watching and catching lightning bugs is one of the simplest and most memorable experiences of summer.

If you have lightning bugs in your area, take time this summer to share the sheer joy of them with someone special. Tell your kids or grandkids stories about them when you were a kid or ask your favorite elder about their experiences. Even better, capture those fabulous stories so you can experience them again in the cold of winter.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How to Start Your Own Family Stories

When you start working on your own family stories, I do strongly recommend getting a digital recorder, which is small, unobtrusive & fairly inexpensive. I use a Sony ICD-P520, which is less than $50 on Another nice feature is that you can use the USB to load it to your computer and create CDs. Once you have a recording, you can also transcribe it into a Word document.

If you want to capture stories and folklore from the elderly, I urge you to start right away. You never know when they (or perhaps just their minds) may be suddenly taken away. Whenever you get a group of people together, encourage them to talk about their experiences. If possible, record them talking, but if not, then take notes to expand later.

Keep a writing journal to remind yourself of stories you want them to talk about, or events you recall yourself. Use photos & memorabilia to help them reminisce. That often has a starburst effect - one memory leads to three others and each of them to several more. It is a wonderful way to keep expanding their legacy.

Here are some of my favorite websites to help you get started. And of course, my book has some excellent ideas on how to capture your family stories. ;-)

Website Resources for Family Historians: Genealogy website has a list of 50 questions to help on interviews. This website says, “Feel free to print and distribute” a Script for Video or Audio Interviews with Family Members.

Author’s website, where you can sign up for a free monthly newsletter (via email) with tips on writing family history.

Association of Personal Historians (APH), which offers an anthology of personal stories. Software & Blog to create and print a family cookbook at home.

Cute Download free software so you can share a document as a PDF file without anyone else modifying it. You use it like another printer, then provide the name and location for the file to save.

Cyndi’s More than 200,000 website links to help with genealogy and family history.

Dr. This simple-to-use website can help when you want to concentrate on a writing exercise.

Grandparents This site offers “Technology to Help Loving Grandparents Connect with Grandchildren!”

Smithsonian Institute. This booklet in PDF format explains how to get started with interviews, sample questions and additional resources.

Story of My Free private website to easily gather all your family stories from friends and family and invite participation from around the world.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Change and Eternal Love

My In-laws are amazing people. They are both 90 years old and she is older by four days, so he has always teased her about being an "older woman." They have been married for 71 years this summer and lived in the same house for some 65 years until they moved into a lovely senior housing facility about 6 months ago.

Just yesterday, they made another momentous change in their lives. Mom had to be placed in an Alzheimer's unit because she needs specialized care. I'm sure Dad dreaded making the decision to be separated from his soul-mate, but fortunately, the units are on the same property so he can go see her every day.

In this world of instant gratification and jumping from one relationship to another, it is wonderful to see a love that has endured for almost a century. Even as their minds and bodies have slowly but surely started to disappoint them, there has never been any doubt that they are still in love.

They are models for married life. It would be lovely if we could learn the secret of their success.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Love for Father's Day

So often, we don't remember to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us. That is one of the reasons that I am so passionate about getting people to capture their family stories. Not only are they wonderful to record for future generations, they are fabulous for the people around.

In fact, just one little story would make a wonderful gift to our fathers as a tribute on his special day. Make Father's Day more personal by writing your own story or card. You don't need to buy an expensive card when you want to show your love.

Does your father (or grandfather or brother, etc., you pick) know how much you appreciated his help when you were young? Did he work two jobs to allow you to go to college? Did he happen to get a lot smarter as you grew up from your teen years when you knew everything?

If that person is still around today, you can repay some of his kindness and dedication to you by actually telling or showing him how much he means to you. If they are gone already, then you can write a short story about what they meant to you. Either way, Father's Day is a wonderful opportunity to show you cared.

For more ideas on showing love, check out Patty Newbold's blog at

Friday, May 15, 2009

4th Grade Biography Writing

I had the distinct pleasure this week to conduct a Biography Writing Workshop for Mrs. McClymonds' 4th grade class. The class of 25 was attentive and very interested in the writing process, which was a wonderful experience.

The children knew more about writing genres than I expected, including the difference between fiction and non-fiction, biography and autobiography. They practiced asking each other some of the interview questions that I provided. They asked excellent questions about how to interview someone for their stories and even wanted to know if they can interview themselves. That might sound a bit unusual, but that is exactly how I help people write their own stories. The only difference is that they don't have to ask the questions out loud. ;-)

The goal before our second writing session was for each of the kids to interview an adult in their family circle (which includes all their friends and family) in person, write down their answers and be prepared to start writing a cohesive story about the person. After they write their stories, they will practice reading them aloud to themselves and to their small workgroups. On the final day, each of the students will present their story to the class and several visitors, then a few adults will judge their presentations for appropriate awards.

The part that I love about this process is getting the kids to think of their elders as "real people" instead of just "old people." Once they understand the concept of the interviewing process, they will be able to carry on a conversation with family members they don't really know.

There is one example that almost always captures their imagination. At a previous workshop, one young boy learned that his grandmother never saw a television until she was 10 years old. I asked them to imagine what they would do with all their time with no TV, no computers, no video games and no iPods.

One boy said he'd be bored to death. But another said he could play outside and a young girl said she could read. The important thing is to encourage children to use their imaginations and to write their own stories. In the process, they will hopefully have fun while they do it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Events in Kankakee, IL

Don't miss these events in Kankakee, IL:

Saturday, April 18, 2009, from 10am-2pm
Kankakee Author Fair
For more information, call 815-939-4564 or see
I will have my new book hot off the presses available for purchase:
Granny's Guide to Fun & Fabulous Family Stories.

Saturday, May 2, 2009, from 10am-Noon
Join my workshop on Writing Family History
Fee is $25 per person and space is limited.
Call 815-935-2766.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Teleclasses on Writing Family Stories

Upcoming Teleclasses

Please feel free to forward this announcement to anyone else who might be interested in family stories. To join our mailing list, please visit

All teleclasses are Eastern Time & last for 45-60 minutes

Dial-In numbers: 308-344-6400 Access: 300645#

Mon. 3/9/09 8:00 PM ET - What Are Family Stories?

Weds. 3/11/09 11:00 AM ET - Getting Started with Family Stories

Th. 3/19/09 4:00 PM ET - Encouraging Kids to Write Family Stories

Mon. 3/23/09 8:00 PM ET - Biography vs Autobiography

Weds. 3/25/09 11:00 AM ET - Handling Controversial Topics

Your participation is welcome!

Visit my website at

Thursday, March 5, 2009

First Review of APH Anthology

Here is the first review for
on Story Circle Network:

"If you're a fan (as I am) of stories rooted in real life, you will very much enjoy this book. It would also make a delightful gift for the storytellers in your family—and might even give them a few valuable ideas (and some important motivation) for telling their own stories. And if you're a teacher of memoir, reminiscence, or personal history, it would make an excellent addition to your classroom teaching or to your students' reading list. Imaginatively conceived, thoughtfully arranged, and professionally edited and presented, *My Words Are Gonna Linger: The Art of Personal
History* will be a source of pleasure, information, and instruction."

~ Susan Wittig Albert,

To read the review, visit

To read excerpts:

To read tips:

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Family Stories - any time of year

The end of winter is a perfect time to capture some of your family stories. They will make wonderful gifts for your entire family and for generations to come.

During this next month, think about your experiences during the winter. Jot down notes about the holidays - who did you visit, what did you do, where did you go?

Consider writing about the weather - was there a snowstorm in the Midwest, fluke snow in South Carolina, heavy ice that broke trees and power lines?

Write a few paragraphs about what you experienced, then be sure to share that wonderful bit of wisdom with your family.

Show your love by taking the time to record your family history!

To join our mailing list, please visit

Monday, February 23, 2009

Achieving Your Dreams with Wishcraft

I have been blessed by personally meeting and following Barbara Sher, who is the author of many books, including Wishcraft, How to Get What You Really Want. She wrote it 30 years ago and the publisher is issuing a 30th Anniversary version on March 24, 2009.

Too often, we don't even know exactly what it is that we really want. For me, it was to get out of the corporate environment and accomplish something. But what? As Fate would have it, I got laid off from IBM about 18 months ago. My first reaction was to be scared to death. After more than 30 years in data processing, all of a sudden I lost my identity as well as my income.

Fortunately, I dug out Barbara's Wishcraft and immediately started deciding what I wanted and how to get there. Once I identified my repressed goal of becoming a writer, the rest was (almost!) easy. For me, the chapter on creating a backward flowchart was a lifesaver. It helped me figure out exactly how to get the credentials I needed, first by taking writing classes at the University of Chicago, then by blogging and building a web presence, and finally by writing a book.

Could I have done the same things without Wishcraft? Probably. But it would have taken much longer and it would have been much more difficult. Thank Goodness for Barbara Sher and Wishcraft. Happy Anniversary!

Stories that Matter

I decided to start this blog so that other people could learn from the mistakes I made over and over throughout my life. I spent considerable time with my maternal grandparents while I was growing up and again later as a young adult. My regret is that I never asked them questions that really mattered. I have the same regrets regarding my parents as well and now it is too late.

If I can help a single person understand the importance of recording their personal or family stories, or those of their ancestors and loved ones, then my omissions will not have been in vain. Even better, if I can make the process of gathering those stories both fun and painless, then that is icing on the cake.

Everyone has an interesting story to share. Anyone can write their own stories when given some guidance and help. Some people may need friends or family to write for them. Some people may not have stories about family members, but they have close friends who have shared wonderful times. All of these stories are important to record and to share with other people.

And my goal is to make that process fun and fabulous!

Like many people, I didn’t write down stories about my parents and grandparents when I was younger. Now that they are gone, I regret not asking them the questions that really mattered. If I can help a single person understand the importance of recording their personal or family stories, or those of their ancestors and loved ones, then my omissions will not have been in vain. Even better, if I can make the process of gathering those stories both fun and painless, then that is icing on the cake.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How Well Do Your Children Know Their Grandparents?

In today's society with our families scattered across the country, it is becoming much more difficult to keep in touch with our grown children and young grandchildren.

Most kids don't know much about their grandparent's early life. In fact, they most likely think of their grandparents as "old people," not as "real people."

One way to correct this situation as grandparents is tell them details about our own growing up. Talk about the games you used to play, such as checkers, cribbage and dominoes. Better yet, teach the kids how to play with you. What a great opportunity to spend quality time together and establish a true relationship with them.

I have already started teaching dominoes to my grandkids at 3 and 5 years old. Each time we get together, I plan to show them simple games that I always enjoyed. And no batteries needed!

Obviously, the age of the children and the frequency of your time with them will make a tremendous difference. But how much better to play interactive games with them than to plunk them down in front of a video game.

A delightful blog that I follow deals specifically with generations in different locations and how to use technology to bridge the distance. I recommend it highly to all grandparents. It is called

Friday, February 13, 2009

Will Your Words Linger?

Here is the Press Release for a wonderful new book from the Association of Personal Historians (APH):

TAMPA, FLA February 12, 2009 /PRNewswire/ — The passion for sharing personal stories is not only the most powerful way to pass on the experiences, wisdom and voices of one generation to the next—it's an expression of a deep human need to shout to the future, "Do not forget me! I was here!"

A new anthology, My Words Are Gonna Linger: The Art of Personal History, celebrates the preservation of stories to ensure that our eyewitness accounts of history endure. Available February 1 from Personal History Press, the publishing arm of the Association of Personal Historians, the book differs from other anthologies by providing insight into the memoir-writing process and practical tips on how to start writing your own or someone else's life story.

This rich collection of forty-nine true stories—gathered or written by members of the Association of Personal Historians Inc.—breathes life into history, places, and cultural differences. My Words Are Gonna Linger shows how personal history can convert experience into wisdom and growth for both the storyteller and those who listen. In the foreword, best-selling author Rick Bragg (All Over but the Shoutin', Ava's Man and The Prince of Frog Town) shares a riveting tale passed down in his family.

My Words Are Gonna Linger explores and explains various ways of presenting life stories, including thematic memoirs, linear autobiographies, and reminiscence about food and possessions. Legacy letters and ethical wills show how personal values and beliefs can be passed to future generations.

"Each story in My Words Are Gonna Linger shares a unique insight," says anthology editor Paula Stallings Yost. "When we realize the challenges others endured, we discover new strength within ourselves. We learn that contentment and wisdom come as much from our small daily achievements as from grand deeds."

To order:
Or e-mail

Association of Personal Historians Inc.
The Association of Personal Historians is a nonprofit international trade association whose members preserve memoirs, life stories and community histories in an ever-increasing number of formats.

Press Contact:
Paula Stahel, APH President

Paula Yost, Anthology Editor

Pat McNees, Anthology Editor


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

More Ideas on Family Stories

Another easy way to find family stories to write about is to look at all the memorabilia around you. Photographs are terrific tools to recall memories. Think in terms of who?, what?, where?, when? and why?

Who are the people or locations involved? What was the occassion of the picture? Where was it taken? When was it taken? Why does this particular snapshot draw you in?

Write down all the details of what you remember about the photo, or perhaps about where your thoughts lead you. As you take time to let your thoughts wander, a whole world of experiences may unfold.

If nothing happens to capture your attention, then try other exercises, such as looking through an old family recipe box or an heirloom trunk in the attic. Anything that opens up your thinking and shakes loose a few cobwebs is great for digging out prescious memories. Once they have been dug up, make the effort to preserve them forever.

Just write about a few of your personal history to get started and you'll be glad you did. And so will your friends and family.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Finding a Family Story to Write

When you start to write, it is easiest to write about what you already know. You can tell stories about things that you have experienced yourself. What is your favorite or most vivid memory? Is it your first day at a new school, winning a prize at the fair, or learning an important lesson about life?

Think about the stories that you enjoy reading. Notice that the author starts with an idea, such as a day at the lake and builds the story piece by piece. Was the weather warm and sunny, or cool and windy? Who are the people in the story? Can you picture what they looked like from the writer’s descriptions? Did they roast hot dogs or marshmallows? A story does not need to be fiction to be fun to read.

Stories don’t have to be exciting to be interesting. Writing about things that happen on a normal day can make a wonderful story for a person who hasn’t experienced the same thing. In fact, even someone who is familiar with the actual events will enjoy reading about it. When people read your stories, they may experience something new by seeing it through your eyes.

Think about it. You have dozens of interesting stories in your life. Consider the stories that you like to tell to friends and family. Other people will be interested in reading them as well. You’ll have an endless source of stories when you draw from the huge base of what you do and see every day.

When you get an idea for a story, start writing it as soon as you can. Don’t worry about cleaning it up while you write. Otherwise, you may forget a really great idea. If you do happen to lose the thread to the story, try coming back to it a little later. Remember to use your Writing Journal to capture snippets of thoughts and ideas. It makes a wonderful tool when you are ready to start writing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Your Own Family Stories

Okay, this is the year when you are finally going to write down all of those charming family stories you want to capture for posterity. But how do you start? Do you start when you were born, or do you start with something big & dramatic, or do you start with something more recent?

Good questions, but the most important thing is to just get started. You know, like the Nike commercial: Just Do It!

Grab a spiral-bound notebook or stack of paper and Voila! you have your own writing journal. Carry it with you so that when a memory pops into your mind, you can jot it down to develop later. Even if you do most of your memoir writing on a computer, using a writing journal will be useful any time you have a few minutes to kill while waiting for the kids to get out of dance class, or at the dentist, or all the other places you get stuck for any length of time. Use that time to get started on your own story.

Start with one of your own special memories and write down all the details you can remember. Think of the typical "who, what, where, when & why" questions that newspapers answer so well. In addition, think about how you felt about the event you are capturing.

So, remember: the most important thing about writing your life story is to just do it!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Excuses Self-handicap Us

The New York Times has an article ( on the scientific research on making excuses, which the experts call self-handicapping. One of my Children's Book writer friends (Gail Piernas-Davenport) talks about the article in her blog today. Yesterday she raised some excellent points about excuses. Please check out her blog at

We decide what we want to do and choose whether to follow through on it, so making excuses for whatever reason doesn’t really cut it. If we can talk the talk, we need to walk the walk as well and just do it.

It is nice to get inspired by scientific evidence to back it an idea. This is the year that can make a real difference for each of us. What will you commit to doing this year? As Barbara Sher tells us, "isolation is the dream killer." Find a support group who can help you reach your goals. Together, we can each accomplish so much more.

Do you need help to accomplish those goals, big or small? Check out the Pro Nagger, Rachel Zamek at for help in that area. She has unique ways to encourage you to get it done.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sweet Bedtime Stories

My grandson is four and a half years old. He loves to have me lay down with him at bedtime, almost as much as I love it. When his family was here over Christmas, I was elated to put him to bed. In addition to singing the usual songs and rubbing his little tummy and back, I started a new tradition.

I reminded him about all the fun things we had done during the day and then told him stories about what I did at Christmas when I was a child. He seemed to enjoy the stories and asked a few questions about them, so I definitely plan to do it again.

When my grandson is a bit older, I will also start working with him to write down our little adventures. Whenever we read the stories together, I hope he will become even more interested in creating more memories to capture.

What do you remember about your parents and grandparents? How do you build memories with your kids and grandkids? How do you preserve those memories?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's Non-Resolutions

Happy 2009!

Most years, I make several New Year's resolutions that last for maybe a week or two. This year is going to be least I hope so.

This year, I have one huge resolution: to be less critical of people and to enjoy whatever comes my way to count my blessings. Okay, maybe that is actually two resolutions, but you get the idea.

Oh, one other resolution is to try to post a new blog at least five days a week, so come back often and check out my website as well: You'll find suggestions on writing your own family stories and have the opportunity to sign up for my new newsletter.

Have a wonderful new year.