Telling Your Story, Part 4…How Can You Start?

Memories! Get Started.

        “I’ve always wanted to write my story, but I’m just too busy!”

         How many times have we used the “too busy” excuse for putting off something that needs doing? And how many times have we heard, “We can always find time for the things we really want to do?”

        If you’re one of those people who would love to pass down their family or personal stories to their children and grandchildren, here are a few practical ways to start:

         Jot memories on scraps of paper as they come to mind and drop them into a folder. Or do this on a computer. You could set up folders for “What I know about my ancestors,” “My birth and earliest years,” “Grade school memories,” “Family life,” “High school and college,” or whatever you find important in your life. When your folders are well-filled, your book is also well-begun.

        Set aside small but regular blocks of time to work on your stories. It’s satisfying and surprising to see you can accomplish in daily half-hour sessions. Or maybe you can reserve Saturdays or at least a couple of hours on your days off.

        Keep a continuing notebook where you write notes and stories for later revision.

        Tape or video record your memories, then transcribe and organize them.

        You needn’t tell everything. Many people think a personal history should start at the beginning and go to the end. But that makes for tedious reading. Carefully choose your incidents to help develop a theme—your struggles to accomplish your dreams, the people and events that made you who you are, or the lessons you want to pass on to your readers. You’ll leave out way more than you tell.

        My own memoir, A Logger’s Daughter: Growing Up in Washington’s Woods, is a series of wide-ranging essays that together tell stories of growing up and lessons learned, each with an overarching theme. The theme of one essay called “Small Wonders” is that God provides for all His creatures, human or otherwise, and that each depends on others for life itself. Each incident I wrote about contributed to my love and respect for nature.

        Methods of writing memoirs are as individual as the people who write them. Find a method that fits into your schedule and begin. When you’re finished, you might find that you’ve written a memoir that will find a place in the hearts of thousands of readers who don’t even know you! For sure, your family down through generations will appreciate your efforts.

Part Three–Telling Your Story

You Don’t Have to be a Professional to Tell Your Story

    Some fascinating reading can be found in the old diaries or letters written by ordinary people living ordinary lives.

   Years after my husband’s father passed away, Hank was thrilled to find a small book in which his dad had jotted daily events. He only wrote a sentence or two per day, but chronicled events such as his son stopping to visit, the birth of a new calf, what he had for supper. You might find journaling a rewarding way to tell your own story.
     You might like put your stories in poetry form. One of my ancestors wrote a collection of poems about his life in the early 1800’s. One tells how he traveled by river raft to a new home farther west. Another tells how his children were saved when their horse ran away with their buggy. Still others are memorials to lost loved ones.
       Audio or video recordings of us telling our stories can be an especially precious gift to our descendants. At a family reunion, one cousin showed a video-taped interview with his elderly mother. She talked about her family and about growing up on the North Dakota prairies. Aunt Mary is gone now, but she lives on in voice and pictures for the great-grands who never met her. Some years ago, I turned on the tape recorder while my father told about life during the Great Depression, then transcribed what he said. He too has gone home, but we can live those times through his stories.

        Today’s digital cameras make taking great photos easy and cheap. But if those photos just go into digital storage we run the risk of losing them if a computer crashes or something happens to our cloud storage. Printing the pictures and archiving them in albums is a good way to enjoy them now and ensure something to pass down to descendants. Just be sure to label with dates, places, and names of people. Otherwise they might someday end up in a box of orphan photos in an antique store.

        My husband has been working for the past few years to organize family photos that came to him in old scrapbooks and cardboard boxes. They go back several generations. Because he remembers many of the people he is including anecdotes with the pictures, many of them humorous. It’s an entertaining way to carry on the family story. The albums spark questions, reminiscing and conversation.

        Or you can write a traditional memoir, choosing to write about your life from beginning to the present or perhaps picking out certain important events to tell about. Part of the charm of personal history lies in the “voice” of the teller. Regional expressions and individual speaking or writing style give color to a story. The grammar and spelling doesn’t have to be perfect. If necessary, we can hire someone to edit and type what we write.

    There are many ways to share our stories. What’s important is to do it.

*Top photo: Actress Mary Pickford at a writing desk.

Blog Series, Part Two–Your Story Can Give Your Family Roots

Why Should You Tell Your Story?

        My grandparents died before I was old enough to ask questions about their lives, except for Grandma Schmidt, and I only saw her a few times. She and my grandpa immigrated from Germany as children, met and married in the U.S., and moved to a homestead in the hill-and-coulee country of North Dakota. I know she herded geese as a little girl in Germany. As an adult, she raised turkeys to help support her family on their marginal farm. She learned English well enough to write me letters in German script until she died when I was a teen.

         Did she miss her relatives in Germany? How did it feel to leave her first three babies in their graves when she moved from Minnesota to North Dakota? Did she feel bereft when my mother moved out west to Washington, depriving her of the chance to know the five grandchildren who were born here? I have tried to write the bare bones of her story for her descendants, but I don’t have the answers for questions like those. I wish I could have asked her.

        One of the greatest gifts you can leave future generations is the knowledge of who you are. They can learn from your hopes, dreams, and struggles as you pass on the lessons you’ve learned.

        Until you can put your stories on paper, look for opportunities to tell them to your family. Your life stories will become part of their story. And you’ll gift your loved ones with a sense of life’s ongoing.

        You’ll give your children and grandchildren a sense of their own places in history, helping them feel connected with those who’ve gone before, with those whose lives they touch now, and with those who will follow them. What a gift!


Grandma Johanna Schmidt with her turkeys at the edge of the coulee

Blog Series, Part One–Tell Your Story, because Your Life Matters

Why You Should Tell Your Story

    I just spent a couple of days with my younger sister, who lives some distance away. It was special to be reminded of happy times when we and our children were young. Later, life brought heartbreak and difficult days to both of us but now, we can laugh again. We’ve lived some stories that deserve to be told.

        My sister raised her family before going back to college and becoming a businesswoman. She lost two of her three adult children. Byron died in his early twenties in a plane crash, along with four other pilots on their way to fight wildfires in California. Cancer took Tami’s life. She left behind a husband and pre-teen daughter. Then my sister’s marriage imploded.
        In spite of multiple griefs and her own battle with cancer, she carried on with her artistic and expert gardening pursuits and is active in the community. Now she is rebuilding her life with a good and caring man. She has a lot to teach others about bravery in the face of heartache.
        Her stories matter. What she did, said, thought, and felt changed her own small corner of the world. Her life has meaning and consequences, and so does yours.

        Each of us makes a difference to someone, somewhere. By telling your own stories, you can continue to affect people’s lives long after you are gone. So, tell your story because your life matters.

    In the next few posts on Sun Breaks, I’ll offer more reasons why you should tell your stories. I’ll also include some “how-to’s.” Stay tuned.

Can you imagine a story behind this picture?

Honey Bees Bring Summer in January

The first full week of January 2015 blew in with icy rain and low dark clouds. Bare branches swished above fallen leaves lying black and sodden on the ground. Not much indicates that summer lurks beneath them, just waiting for the proper time to burst forth.

But in my cupboard I’ve got a couple of jars of last summer’s nectar—honey from the Nixon honey farm near Innisfail, Alberta. When I spread it on my breakfast toast, it conjures a  picture of blooming fields and hard-working honeybees.

The Nixon honey farm has seven thousand hives scattered over the prairies among fields of canola, alfalfa and other crops. The bees forage in these fields to produce that honey.

 Each hive consists of boxes stacked four high, on pallets.  Each queen bee lays 3000 eggs per day. She fills up the lower two boxes with eggs. This is where the bees live and care for the developing young. The top two boxes are supposed to be for honey storage but sometimes the queen starts laying eggs in the upper boxes too. If she does, the box is set aside until the bees develop.

When the boxes are filled with honey, they are replaced with empty boxes and brought in to the factory. They are stacked in a “hot” room for several days while the wax softens and becomes easier to work with.

Meanwhile, bees that inadvertently came along inside the hives escape to the steamy windows, trying to find their way outside.

In the extraction room, contract workers (hired from Mexico or the Philippines) bring pallets of boxes from the hot room. They pry the top off each box with a special tool, and scrape beeswax from the edges and tops of the frames that are hanging in the box. Then they lift all the frames at once from each box with a machine that inserts them into a slanted conveyor.

As the frames move up the conveyor, someone scrapes along the fronts of them so the honey starts to flow from each frame. Honey, wax, and numerous bees all drop into the trough beneath and flow down to a spinner. The spinner separates the honey that then flows up through pipes to other machines, which filter out the remaining bee parts and wax. The pollen, which has health-giving properties, is left in the honey. The pure honey is then packaged in various-sized containers for shipment to customers.

Nixon Honey Farm sells creamed honey, flavored honeys, and concentrated pollen. The beeswax is sold to people who use in in cosmetics, candles, and for other purposes.

Many people believe that honey is one of nature’s most perfect foods. It never goes bad. Because of its antibacterial properties it has long been used for healing cuts and scrapes (or sore throats and coughs), and bee pollen can build up immunity to seasonal pollen allergies.

As if all this isn’t enough to make us appreciate these industrious insects, bees also pollinate much of the food we eat. Without them trees wouldn’t produce fruit and grains wouldn’t produce seed.

And we wouldn’t have the taste of summer to remind us that January won’t last forever!