Monday, October 31, 2011

Las Vegas Conference for APH

The 17th annual conference of the Association of Personal Historians (APH) was held October 16-20, 2011 at Harrah’s Casino Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. I was excited to attend my first conference and to be elected to the APH Board of Directors.

Conference keynote speakers included Nikki Silva from NPR’s Kitchen Sisters, Oksana Marafioti, author of the forthcoming memoir, American Gypsy, and documentary filmmaker Ben Patton. The packed program offered five days of workshops, seminars and impromptu sessions on an array of topics ranging from interviewing methods to book indexing to video storytelling techniques.

I was among the almost 200 personal historians from around the world who gathered to sharpen business and technical skills, learn more about their profession and network with their colleagues. Personal historians preserve histories, life stories and memories for individuals, families, organizations and businesses. Personal history formats range from books containing family stories, photos and documents to audio or video documentaries.

How to get the most out of a conference? Here are some suggestions: 1) always wear a name badge, 2) ask questions to start a conversation with anyone nearby, 3) look over the program agenda to decide on the most useful sessions, 4) if a session isn’t as valuable as hoped, slip out to find another one, 5) offer to lend a hand when needed, 6) share whatever insights you can offer to others, 7) if you start to burn out, take a break or even a nap to get refreshed, and 8) smile at everyone and call them by name when possible (Hint: Check their name badge).

For me, one of the greatest things about the conference was meeting in person the group of virtual colleagues she had met over the years. Although this was the first APH conference I was able to attend, meeting other personal historians face-to-face was an inspiration. People are drawn to the profession from a variety of backgrounds: journalism, counseling, education, graphic design, film, radio, book publishing and many other occupations. All share a dedication to preserving personal stories and documenting lives for the benefit of generations to come.

Attending this conference was an amazing way to network with people. It has rejuvenated my passion for preserving family stories. I discovered additional ways to help my clients preserve their stories in a variety of print formats from vignettes and tributes to full life stories. My newest offerings include Ethical Wills, which can be thought of as legacy letters to a family.

Attending the conference at a Las Vegas casino hotel begs the question: Did I have any luck gambling? Although good for a laugh, I’d have to say no, I’m not a gambler. In fact, with all the smoke, noise and sensory overload in the casino, during my one foray into it I spent about 3 minutes to lose a $5 credit in a slot machine.

Additional information about APH may be found at Personal Historians.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Writing Your Ethical Will – Part 3: Life Lessons Learned

An ethical will, also called a legacy letter, is a document written to pass on important considerations, such as experiences, values, wisdom, and blessings, to loved ones. An ethical will can be shared with family members or friends either at the time it is written, or preserved to be read after the author’s death. Read more at my Ethical Wills.

This series of posts will show you how to write your own ethical will in six easy steps. Today’s post is the third topic - Life Lessons Learned.

Parts of an Ethical Will

1. Opening
2. Your History - Past & Present
3. Life Lessons Learned
4. Personal Values & Beliefs
5. Hopes for the Future
6. Closure

Each person’s life experiences shape them into the person they become. This third step in creating your ethical will examines some of the most significant factors in your life, such as: life lessons, losses and failures, achievements and accomplishments, gratitude, service, and advice.

A - Life Lessons
Your life lessons often shape who you are and who you become. Everyone experiences and responds differently to life lessons. That is why they are such an important element of your ethical will.
In this section, you can share the details of your significant experiences. What have you learned during your life, when, and from whom? Which ones have been pivotal influences in your life?

I learned this from my father: find something you love to do, work hard, and be proud of yourself; only later did other people say girls aren’t “supposed” to compete with boys. I proved they were wrong.
My mother provided the inspiration to be the best I could be and to never give up on my dreams.
Playing chess taught me to plan ahead, be patient, and anticipate the desired outcome.
My grandmother showed me how to be a lady and still get what I wanted; behind every successful man is a strong woman.

B – Growth from Losses and Failures
No one has a perfect life. There are trials and tribulations, heartbreaks, disappointments, tragedies, losses, and failures. Ideally, they become opportunities for reflection and growth.
Think about your challenges and the impact they have had on your development. Did you go under at first? Did you eventually overcome? Did you gain compassion, patience, or greater understanding? Maybe even wisdom? Were you bitter? Were you able to forgive others? Yourself?
This may be difficult material to visit but worthwhile in your development and for the relevance of your ethical will. While your ethical will is a legacy letter for your loved ones, you don’t want it to become a vapid valentine without substance and depth.

When I lost my job (scholarship, love of my life, etc.), I discovered that…
My illness (or losing my breast) taught me the importance of…
My divorce(s) proved to me…
Losing my parent (spouse, child) showed me…
The tragedy of my childhood enabled me to…
I regret that I didn’t learn sooner to…

C - Achievements & Accomplishments
Each person has their own goals, hopes, and dreams. Fulfilling any or all of them is in large measure dependent upon the person’s abilities, resources, circumstances, and even luck. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I find the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Think about all the factors that have contributed to working toward your goals.
What have been your proudest accomplishments and why? What can your descendants learn from your successes and missteps? Which achievements by your family have made you proud? How does having confidence in yourself lead you to more successes?

My greatest achievement has been….(e.g. publishing a book that helps people communicate better, going back to school, becoming a certified Scuba Diver, sacrificing for my children’s education, overcoming certain challenges, working with troubled teens, etc.)
I am proud of the way my family (son, daughter, grandchildren, etc.) has…
In spite of a troubled youth, my son (daughter, uncle, friend, etc.) was able to…

D - Gratitude
Everyone has something to be grateful for every day. Even during times of duress or hardship, it is good to appreciate what we have in life. Rather than being thankful only once a year on Thanksgiving, for example, consider how different your life would be under different circumstances.
Focus on the good in your life, even in the midst of challenges. What are you grateful for and why? Have you witnessed the benefits of gratitude?

I am grateful for … a warm bed … a loving, supportive family … and great friends.
I am grateful for beauty in nature.
I am grateful for opportunities to grow and learn.
I am blessed to live in a country that allows freedom of speech and religion.
I am fortunate to have been born with a few innate talents that led me to …

E - Advice
What advice do you want your friends and family to remember? How can you help them in some way? Think about the wisdom you can bequeath to them. Flesh out your advice with stories and examples. Share some of the joys you have experienced. What are your favorite poems, quotes, books, and why?

Always treat others as you want to be treated.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Look for the good in people.
Don’t do anything you want to hide from your mother (father, grandchildren, etc.).
Follow your dreams.
Do something good for people, every day, whenever possible.

Ready to start writing your own Ethical Will? Use this template as an easy way to begin. Free Ethical Wills Template available now.

Have you started your Ethical Will? I'd love to hear how it's going.

New book coming soon:
The Essence of Ethical Wills: How to Write Legacy Letters to Your Family

Monday, October 3, 2011

33 Ways for Fun with Grandchildren

This post was written for Simple Marriage by Home and Family columnist Beth LaMie.

Spending time with grandchildren is among the best things in life. In fact, it is priceless.

Although it’s always a pleasure to visit my son and his family, I thoroughly enjoy having the two grandkids all to myself. It seems the dynamics of how we relate to each other is totally different when their parents are elsewhere. That’s why I encourage them to go out on a date, or run some errands, or just go off by themselves for several hours.

That gives me a chance to spoil the six- and seven-year-old grandchildren just a bit while we have some fun. Of course, I keep them safe and secure the entire time, but a few of the minor rules may happen to fall by the wayside. Nothing serious, though.

By the way, one rule I try to enforce is that we play nothing that requires batteries. It seems to me that children have much more energy that grownups do, so it makes sense to let them use up some of that vigor while they play.

Regardless of a child’s age, there are endless ways to have fun with them. Every age offers its own challenge as well as opportunity. Keep an open mind and look for various resources for suggested activities to accommodate your young ones.

The trick is to figure out several options to offer them and to have any necessary items prepared in advance. For example, on my last visit with them, I brought along pages to color, a craft project, new books to read, a few snacks, some word games and puzzles, and the expectation that we’d have a wonderful time together.

In addition, my fallback plan was to investigate their roomful of toys, games, books, balls, etcetera, that they love to share. At least usually.

Here are some ideas on things to do with your grandchildren. Use it as a thought-generator to come up with your own activities. Some of these will appeal more than others, so don’t be afraid to experiment, either.

1. Pancakes with mouse ears or rolled up with cinnamon and butter
2. Cookies from scratch or prepared mixes
3. Cupcakes frosted in fun ways
4. Make-your-own pizza
5. Dip pretzel sticks in chocolate or icing, then sprinkles
6. Build a gingerbread house (Hint: Use graham crackers for easy structures) XXX

1. Dress-up or make-believe
2. Modeling clay, crayons, pipe cleaners
3. Scrapbook album or a single page
4. Art projects
5. Make hand or sock puppets

1. Card games, word games, dominoes
2. Tic-tac-toe, connect-the-dots
3. Board games – checkers, Candyland, Sorry, Bingo
4. Hide-and-seek, blind man’s bluff, follow-the-leader
5. Simon says, Mother may I?

1. Walk, bike, go to a playground
2. Pick apples, pears, or other seasonal fruit
3. Draw with chalk on the driveway or sidewalk
4. Play tag, hop-scotch, or statue
5. Toss a ball, balloon (water?), or frisbee
6. Explore your yard – flowers, trees, birds, animals
7. Build a snowman

1. Play 20 questions
2. Talk about what you remember from your childhood
3. Ask about the child’s friends, toys, dreams, and share your own
4. Interview – Getting to Know You: A How-To Story for Kids on How to Interview Family Members (pdf) The Mini Page, Dec. 25-31, 2010) (c) 2010 Universal Uclick (2.0MB)

1. Instructions on how to play simple games
2. Great newsletter
3. Activities by age group, including seasonal pages to color
4. Easy recipes that kids enjoy
5. Suggestions on books, games, toys
6. Groups to join, such as “Grandparenting From Afar”

What are your favorite pastimes with your grandchildren? What activities can you plan for the upcoming holidays?