Love That Dirt

55_why_gardenHere’s a surprising factoid: a whopping 75% of American households garden. Say what? Why would so many people endure the discomfort of heat and the likelihood of itchy bug bites?

Depending upon how you look at it, the answer to the question, “Why garden?” is both elusive and complex. Ask any gardener why they garden and you’ll get a variety of reasons.

I’ll start with myself.  I garden mostly because I like the creativity it offers and the huge feeling of success when I actually eat something from it.  I also garden because the garden is pretty and because it gets me outdoors.  I need that connection with nature. In addition, I garden because it ties in with my husband’s cooking talent. Plus, gardening gives us a fun new joint project: composting.

Why do you garden?

Here’s a list of possible reasons from the National Garden Bureau. I bet you’ll see that your interest in gardening is rooted (pun intended) in several core reasons.  For the complete article by Janis Kief, click here.

Six Reasons

1. Garden for safe, healthy food. Reports of food-borne contamination appear regularly in the press. With your own garden, you know what you’ve treated.  Or maybe you skipped pesticides entirely. Beyond that, you know veges are healthy. As the vegetables ripen, (and they all seem to be ready to harvest about the same time), the more immediate question becomes: how do you cook all of them?  We recommend the website AllRecipes.com. Just type in the vegetable that you want to use (example: basil) and a bunch of recipes will pop up. Very handy.

2. Garden for exercise. Give me a garden over a gym routine any day of the week. Get a good workout even thinking about it. An hour of gardening involves stretching, bending, and weightlifting.  On top of this, you’ll see the immediate results (no weeds!) in your garden.

3. Garden to add beauty and to be creative. Yes! This doesn’t have to be elaborate:  it can be as simple as adding a container of colorful flowers near the front door.  Think of your garden area as another room to be enjoyed.  A garden’s design also reflects a personal creativity and sense of style. And there are so many styles to choose from ranging from the romantic cottage garden, the peace of a Japanese garden, or the rather random approach (like mine) where I plan with color, height, prime blooming time, and plant “companions” in mind.

4. Garden for emotional needs and spiritual connection. To me, gardens serve as a tranquil retreat from everyday life.  The beauty of flowers lifts my spirit.  Not to mention that pulling weeds can be a great release from stress! The sight of colorful flowers or a passing Monarch butterfly delights me. On a higher level, gardening provides a spiritual connection to life. It’s a miracle to take a tiny seed, plant and nurture it, and watch it grow into a beautiful flower or delicious food.

5. Garden to learn and to meet people. Gardeners love to talk about their gardens.  They also like to share their knowledge and learn even more.  There’s a variety of ways to increase your gardening know-how such as seminars or Master Gardener programs.  Or (if you’re like me), just look online for YouTube gardening instruction. We found several great YouTube videos about composting that we used to get us started. Click here for one of my favorites. Gardening is also a great excuse to talk with your neighbors. Surplus tomatoes? Bet you can find a neighbor who would love them.  Bug problem? A neighbor might have a good solution.  You can also meet neighbors through community gardens.

6. Garden for lasting memories. Gardening is a fun activity that can be shared with children and grandchildren.  Gardens also provide a beautiful way to remember a special person. My memories of my grandmother are inextricably connected to her beautiful rose garden in her back yard.

Discover your own reasons for being a gardener and share them with someone in your family. Enjoy the satisfying fun that gardening provides. Capture and preserve some of your family’s gardening stories…like our fearless Uncle Sam who battled the squirrels with his antique BB gun.

SMF-Jane2Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis.  

What is Nostalgia Good For?

A few weeks ago, a friend posted this picture of a toy telephone on Facebook. “Remember this?” she asked. Indeed I did. It brought back all sorts of memories, including a host of other beloved toys: my all-time favorites being my stuffed dog pal (Marty) and a herd of plastic horses.

Old toys certainly bring with them a sentimental walk down memory lane.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone. Many commented on my friend’s toy phone photo. I was especially intrigued by those friends who connected the memory of this childhood toy with other senses that I hadn’t even considered—sound, taste and smell.

Just an idle walk down memory lane?

So what does all this amount to? Just an idle walk down memory lane? Far from it. In fact, in a recent New York Times article called “What is Nostalgia Good For?”, the author, John Tierney, focuses on the benefits of nostalgizing. Yes, actual benefits. This is a refreshing change from older views of nostalgia, a word that by definition isn’t upbeat, coming from the Greek nostos (homecoming) and algo (pain or ache).

“Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety,” Tierney writes, citing research. “It makes people more generous towards strangers…Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories.” A study shows that thinking nostalgic thoughts makes our bodies feel warmer. Songs with lyrics about loss of love also made the subjects feel warmer. I recommend playing the Beatles song, Norwegian Woods; you’ll be putting on your bathing suit in no time.

Recent Research

For the last 15 years or so, there’s been a lot of research done on the topic of nostalgia. The late psychiatrist and gerontologist Gene D. Cohen spoke of the natural proclivity for people between 40 and 60 to draw on the experiences from the past in an effort to create a meaningful future. In addition, geriatric social workers sometimes use narrative therapy in their work with elderly patients. Narrative therapy uses storytelling to find positive meaning in past experiences. Nostalgizing, says Dr. Constantine Sedikides, a pioneer in the field. “makes us bit more human.”

Today Sedikides and dozens of researchers studying nostalgia have discovered that nostalgia is a global experience and on that can be used intentionally to enrich the present moment. Used as a therapy, reminiscing can help focus on the one positive point that a client mentions; focusing on that positive memory can lead to a place of strength and hope. Dr. Sedikides makes it a point to create memories in his own life that will be memorable. He draws upon his own nostalgic repository when he needs a psychological lift.

Benefits of Nostalgia

Nostalgia, the researchers conclude, is universal. The topics reminiscence about friends and family members, holidays, weddings, songs, sunsets, and lakes. The stories told tend to feature the self as the protagonist surrounded by close friends. The researchers contend that nostalgia has a positive effect on how people feel about themselves, reporting feelings of being fortunate, full and grateful.

Of course, memories can also be depressing, causing a sense of loss and dislocation. Memories that focus on comparisons (then and now) can be especially detrimental. But recent studies show that comparison-free nostalgizing serves a crucial function, bringing to mind cherished experiences and potentially helping people in difficult situations.

Who should try this approach and how often? The experts say unless you’re neurotic (in which case you’ll undoubtedly overdo it), nostalgizing should be a regular exercise…even two or three times a week. So my advice—based solely on many conversations with Saving Memories Forever clients—is to give it a try. Admire that orange sunset. Serve up that new mango sauce. Join your children and grandchildren as they play with the toys that they love.

It’s likely that those cherished toys will become part of their future walks down memory lane and you’ll be right there with them.

 

SMF-Jane2Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis. She volunteers with several local organizations with her favorite one being STL Village. 

 

 

Road Trip to Grand Teton National Park

In September 2012 my mother and I took a road trip to visit her aunt Dottie and some of her first cousins in Idaho Falls. We had planned to do a half week of genealogy research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and then rent a car to drive to Idaho Falls since it was less than three hours away.

Mom had not seen her aunt since the 1990s and the cousins since she was about age 15. I had only a foggy memory of my great aunt from the 1980s when she and my great uncle visited my childhood home on a brief stop through town; I had never even met my first cousins, once removed—only knowing their names from my genealogy database. We thought the visit would be the perfect opportunity to give information about the research we were conducting on our shared Anderson line, as well as to scan some of the photos of our common ancestors and collateral lines.

One of the highlights of the three-day visit was getting to spend an extended amount of time in the car visiting with my then 88-year old great aunt as we drove to see the Grand Tetons. We departed Idaho Falls to drive the two hours to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, located just south of Grand Teton National Park. The view was spectacular! The whole region, including areas outside the park along Palisades Reservoir, had trees adorned with beautiful fall colors.

Grand Teton National Park plaque

Because we came and went two different ways, I was able to get different views of the Grand Tetons. We even stopped at a few scenic pull-outs where I was able to take various photos. I learned that the Grand Teton National Park was originally established on 26 February 1929—in fact, 85 years ago from today—before it was later expanded on 14 September 1950 to 310,000 acres, including Jackson Hole, the Snake River, and other resources.

Although we did not do any hiking since my great aunt was confined to a wheelchair, the view alone was worth the drive. But the best part about the drive was hearing Dottie’s stories.

Landscape near Jackson Hole, Wyoming    View of Grand Tetons

I learned how Dottie felt as a young bride to receive news that her husband had been wounded and taken prisoner of war somewhere near Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and about the long wait she endured before he was finally returned home with a permanent disability.  I heard a tale for the first time about Dottie’s father-in-law (my great-grandfather) riding a stagecoach across Yellowstone to Montana as a young man in the early 1910s and purchasing land there before moving to North Dakota—who knew?  I also learned that my great-grandparents raised a foster daughter in the 1930s—a fact that had gone completely undocumented in my version of the family history until that moment.

As Dottie told her stories during the 4+ hour car ride, I was able to record them with a digital voice recorder that captured the audio recording in MP3 format.  The conversation flowed naturally and at times strayed to present-day commentary, such as explaining to me what a “spud hall” or potato cellar was.  I was able to capture Dottie’s personality as her stories unfolded, and although the recordings were not professional quality, they were perfect for the moment.Now in February 2014, reflecting back on those memories only several weeks after my sweet great aunt Dottie passed away, I am so glad that I was able to have extended time with her to record her memories.

I’m in the process of editing some of the longer audio clips into MP3 files of individual stories so I can upload them to my account on the Saving Memories Forever website. After uploading these MP3 files, I can easily announce that I have added new stories and share them with my family and Dottie’s children.  It is priceless to have Dottie’s voice recorded now that she is gone.

Every time I think of the Grand Tetons, I will remember my great aunt Dottie and how her eyes lit up when she told her stories.  I hope to return to the national park in the future so I can explore more of the landscape that Dottie had grown to love while living in the region. Although Dottie is no longer with us, her stories and memories will endure.

Deena Coutant headshotDeena Coutant is a professional genealogist specializing in the use of technology to facilitate successful search, storage and sharing strategies for family historians in the digital age. For more information visit DigiDeena Consulting www.digideena.com.

Clowning Around

Clown Smiling

By Jen Baldwin

Do you remember it? The discarded peanut shells beneath your feet; the aroma of animals, popcorn and cotton candy mixed together. The sound of the carni music, the laughter and excited talk as the lights eventually began to fade… the applause, the anticipation as the Ringmaster stepped into the spotlight, magical and ornate in his red suit and top hat. The Circus!

The first week in August is International Clown Week and what a reason to celebrate!  An attraction often used to “kill time” between acts during a live show, clown’s truly date to ancient Greece. Comedians of the culture, they were generally bald-headed and padded to appear larger than normal, performing as “secondary figures.”  Roman’s added a pointed hat, colorful garments and were the target for pranks, gags and abuse. (http://www.internationalclownweek.org/)

Court jesters, harlequins, the classic “white-face” clown, Auguste and the hobo. Common characters in a role played by thousands throughout history, bringing laughter and at times, fear, into the lives of so many.  You can now participate in clown training, therapeutic clown workshops, and learn to be a clown in theatre schools around the world.

The idea of “International Clown Week” first originated in the 1950s, but it was not until the 1960s that the concept really started to gain popularity. The resolution was finally introduced in 1969, and Congress passed the law in October of 1970. Although only officially recognized as such in the United States, it is celebrated by clowns around the world.

Rolling Memories

For so many of us, clowns conjure strong memories of childhood adventure.  The grand tent, and all that lay waiting underneath it, was anticipated in communities across the country.  The young minded lined up to watch the circus train roll into the station.  Those trains, still running today, started as early as the 1830s in the Eastern states, and by the 1890s, Barnum & Bailey had 56 cars traveling the country.  Not to be outdone, Ringling Brothers had nearly 100 cars running the rails by the 1920s. The current Ringling Bros. operation includes two trains traveling simultaneously: Red Unit and Blue Unit; and the animals get the smoothest ride, directly behind the engine.

Today, you do not have to wait for the train to roll into your neighborhood. You can download a customizable “Desktop Train” widget to your computer and have the circus train on your computer every day! [http://www.ringling.com/DesktopTrain.aspx?&parentID=390&assetFolderID=466]

What does the circus mean in our culture today? Think Cirque du Soleil, Circus Flora, and the Big Apple Circus–all filled with incredible acrobatic performances and visually stunning costumes. They characterize their product with “imaginary world” art forms from around the globe and tell fabulous stories with glimpses of dance, daring, and dexterity. Started in the early 1980s in Quebec, today Cirque du Soleil has developed into an international phenomenon that has redefined the circus experience.

Little Doubt

The affect and effect of clowns in our society has been remarkable through the decades. Far from just being entertainers, Harry Rogers was known as the “Fire Clown” and traveled through many western communities from his home in Chicago, educating school children of the dangers of fire, risks to be aware of, and prevention methods. Before the creation of “Smokey the Bear,” the “Fire Clown” was a valuable resource to the people of the United States. There is truly little doubt that the clown industry holds a special place in the history of our society, and that the jovial characters have influenced many.

Do you still enjoy the sights and sounds of the circus, and the clown, with your family today? Do you carry on this annual tradition? Or has the “Greatest Show on Earth” faded from memory?  Keep the experience alive within your family; tell the stories, pull out the old photos. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is even asking for attendees to share their “Amazing Memories” on their website http://bit.ly/1djcXcb .

You can find the tour schedule and special offers – and much more! – on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus website.  You just may find that this is one family adventure worth recapturing, and one that will entertain every generation.


Baldwin, Jen headshot small Genealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper. She also is co-creator and Co-Chair of the NextGen Genealogy Network and is the Director of Operations for The In-Depth Genealogist. You can connect with Jen on her website or on social media.

 

Summer Vacations Create Family Memories

concept

Whether your family goes camping, hits the beaches, visits historical sites or just remains local for a “staycation,” summer vacations are a great time to create and to capture family memories.

A Brief History of Summer Vacations

The concept of “taking a vacation” for most of us means getting away from the office and our usual routine for one or two weeks. No emails, no meetings, no cares, right? Prior to World War II, only the well-to-do had the means to just up and travel when they wanted to and take what most of us know as a vacation. My immigrant ancestors from Germany and Ireland didn’t have the luxury of a vacation – summer or other seasons; basically, if you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid! Since the mid-20th century, most companies provide vacation time as a benefit to employees and most of us look forward to our vacations!

But why summer? The common belief has been that the practice is rooted in America’s early history as a rural, agrarian economy and the public education system. During the summer, children were expected to work in the fields and help with the harvest. But recent thinking holds that it was in fact urban America with its hot steamy cities and public health issues that pushed for a summer break when children could head out to the country.

Do You Remember Summer Vacations From the Past?

For me, summer vacations were not very frequent but I remember two as a child: Niagara Falls, New York and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I grew up in New York which is filled with history and whenever we went on vacation, my mother always made sure there was some element of “learning” about our country’s past. For Niagara it meant the War of 1812 since many of the key battles took place along the Great Lakes. And with the Gettysburg trip, we visited the historic battlefield as well as all the monuments as we learned about the Civil War.

While some of us only have memories, did you realize that you may actually be sitting on a treasure trove of family mementos from past vacations? I recently went through a box of items from my family and guess what I found? Old 8mm home movies from those two vacations from my youth as well as flyers and brochures from the sites we visited. And then, of course, there are the photos taken of me, my brother and my mother as we enjoyed our getaways in the mid-1970s.

Best Ways to Capture Vacation Memories

Here are some ideas on capturing memories of summer vacation, both those from your youth and those you may be planning for this summer or in the future:

  • Record Your Memories: Even if you don’t have any tangible mementos of your past vacations, write down your memories or better yet, record them as stories using Saving Memories Forever.
  • Preserve Paper and Photos: Don’t forget that over time flyers and brochures will fade and break down if not preserved using archival envelopes and folders. Also, make sure your photos are also preserved for posterity using sound archival methods.
  • Scan Items for Safekeeping: Besides preserving items, make sure you scan the important ones and create digital images. If the originals are lost, you’ll always have these files as a backup.
  • Convert Home Movies and Slides: If you are sitting on slides and movies from vacation, make sure you convert them to DVD or digital files. And don’t wait until the film or slides break down! You can find converters that will let you perform the conversion yourself but many use an outside service. Why? They are the experts at converting these items and they are conveniently located at local superstores (Walmart and Costco) or drug stores (Walgreen’s and CVS).
  • Create a Scrapbook: A fun project – even one saved for cold Winter days – is to create a scrapbook of old summer vacation memories. Choose whether to use the traditional book format or digital scrapbooking and include photos, stories and more.
  • Share with Your Family: The best part about discovering items related to past family vacations is sharing them with your loved ones. Amazing stories are sure to pop up as you all look at the photos, movies and other items. Also remember to use Saving Memories Forever to interview those other family members who were on vacation with you and capture their stories!

 

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Game Time at Family Reunions!

Games.  They’ve certainly changed over the years. Way back when, it used to be that a game of horseshoes or croquet in the backyard was the pinnacle of excitement. Then, maybe a rousing game of “Go Fish” or Parcheesee.  Then, Hungry Hungry Hippos and Uno. Card and tile games such as Bridge, Pinnocole, and Mah Johng still hold sway among the 60+ group. I understand that Poker’s also still a strong contender, but even Poker’s popularity stats fall far behind today’s leaders: video games.

I’ll admit it right up front:  I’m not a video game fan.  Even the Super Mario games that came out a good 20 years ago made me nervous, and they’re nothing compared to today’s games.

My objection to these games isn’t primarily focused on the violence and sex. My focus is on what those games take away. They take away contact. They diminish engagement. For me, even the convenient on-line games fall short of the mark.  In my book, players should be face-to-face. Otherwise, it’s simply not as much fun.

Games for Your Family Reuinion

Fast forward to a family reunion, and the key role that activities, including games, play in making family reunions successful.

“I think it’s fair to say that the activities pretty much are the glue that holds it all together.” comments Janet who has attended her family’s reunion of 200 people for “about a zillion years.” She adds with a laugh, “Well, the food’s mighty important too.”

Let’s Play

The trick to planning activities is coming up with activities that appeal to the wide age span and that provide something for everyone.  Below are three tried and true activity suggestions followed by a new suggestion:

  • What’s Special About You?
    Have each family member write something interesting about themselves on a slip of paper and put it in a bucket. Draw out a slip, read it, and have everyone guess who wrote it. An example is, “I can put both of my feet behind my head.” They can write anything that distinguishes them.
  • It’s All About Teams
    Organize a softball game. Pitting the older players against the younger players is always popular.
  • Calling Julia Childs
    Well, no one in your family may cook a fantastique boeuf bourginon, but I bet there are lots of relatives interested in a fun cooking competition. It gives talented cooks a chance to show off and the hungry masses something to smile about. Pick a popular theme such as baked goods or chili, and invite an all-age panel of family members to judge the competition.  Remember to take snapshots of the submitted dishes as well as snapshots of the recipes. (You can upload these as pictures and text files to your family reunions stories on Saving Memories Forever.)

New Activity Idea: Pass the Phone

Pass-the-Phone is a new activity idea.  It uses smartphone apps and storytelling so it appeals to the folks who like “high-tech” as well as others who value oral history.

It requires only a committed game leader (who does some advance preparation BEFORE the reunion) and family members who are willing to answer a question or two. Ideally, the game leader has a smartphone and is comfortable with using the Saving Memories Forever website.

The activity can be played by “going around the circle” or picking names from a hat. The game involves asking a question, recording the answer, and saving those recorded answers on the Saving Memories Forever website. The Saving Memories Forever apps provide some question prompts, but players can always ask their own questions. The game goes quickly and is flexible.  Interviews last only 5 minutes apiece with each question and response; the leader decides when to end the game.

Family reunions invite this Pass-the-Phone activity to be a group experience. You can be sure that family members will interject their comments and those unedited comments will also be fun to listen to down the road.  For more details about how to play Pass-the Phone, check our website.

Meanwhile, let the games begin!

Are We There Yet: Making Family Vacation Travel Easier

In the minds of most Americans, Memorial Day trumpets the beginning of summer. What better way to kick off the summer than with picnics and parades?

Just behind the parades and picnics come the family vacation! A lot of the vacation planning started awhile ago. Dates have been set; hotel and plane reservations have been made. The GPS system has been updated. But that doesn’t cover everything.  Not by a long shot.

are-we-there-yet

 

Consider, for example, the plaintive “Are we there yet?” from the 10-year old in the back seat of the car.  You’ve prepared for an 8-hour car ride, but it’s disheartening that your son is asking this question only 30 minutes into the ride. Then there’s the wondering. Did you re-confirm picking up the newspaper with the neighbor?  Will your daughter’s lousy cough develop into something worse?

 

There are actually travel apps that can help you with all of this.

An app called Viber allows you to text and call without those roaming fees. Then  there’s Wi-Finder that finds Wi-Fi in 114 countries. Still another app, mPassport, helps you locate certified medical help globally.

 

The Saving Memories Forever app provides help of a different kind.

Remember the 10-year old in the back of the car?  Instead of having him count car licenses from 50 states or playing endless hours of Nintendo, show him how the Saving Memories Forever app works and have him act as the family news reporter for the family trip, recording funny incidents as they occur. Yes, it’s easy enough for a 10-year old to operate.

Perhaps “downtime” is another aspect of vacationing that you haven’t fully considered. Don’t misunderstand. There is a clear benefit to doing nothing other than listen to the sound of ocean waves. In fact, be sure to do that.

But vacations also give you an opportunity to talk, to reinforce the bonds of what it means to be a couple and a family. Dedicate some vacation time to tell your children more about your family. You might want to focus on relatives who often get overlooked—the relatives who are no longer living. These may include people your children will never meet in person. But they don’t have to be unknown.

At Saving Memories Forever, we’ve come up with a process that helps you bring these relatives back to life. We call these re-creations Virtual Relatives. Click here for a blog that further introduces Virtual Relatives or click here for the How-To blog that provides step-by-step instructions.  It only takes minutes at a time to create a meaningful legacy.

 

Three step to consider:

1) Register on our website for the free version of our service by using the “Sign Up” link in the upper right hand corner of our home page. Try it out to make sure that your iPhone or Android is compatible with our system. This also gives you an opportunity to practice your family’s storytelling skills.

2) Practice before you show up at the family reunion or focus on creating your own Virtual Relatives.  We suggest you practice by recording a story or two about yourself. Let the kids listen to you as you record your story. It will be fun to listen to your children’s laughter as part of your recording.

3) Compare the free service to our Premium Subscription. Click here for the link that provides a chart comparing the two.

 

Where are you planning to go on your family vacation?  How will you gather and save those memories?