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Listen Up–Advice from 105 year old Isabel

A beautiful example of a short memoir, written by Carlos Lopez, Las Cruces Sun News reporter,  a few days ago. Happy Birthday, Isabel! Include the details about cookies, education and life lessons in your story, just like he did.

Mesilla Park resident turns 105. Here’s her advice

Carlos Andres López, Las Cruces Sun-News Published 6:13 p.m. MT Oct. 3, 2017 | Updated 8:21 p.m. MT Oct. 3, 2017

(Follow the link to see photos by Josh Bachman/Sun-News)


MESILLA PARK – A life devoted to working hard and maintaining a strict diet of fresh food has paid off for longtime Mesilla Park resident Isabel Valles Uribe, who celebrated her 105th birthday last week surrounded by over 150 family members and friends.

Trabajè todo mi vida muy duro (I’ve worked hard all my life),” Uribe said Tuesday while sitting in the living room of her Mesilla Park home, where she and her late husband, Concepcion Uribe, retired after operating a general store in San Miguel from 1947 to 1972.

“My mother is very loving and patient — it’s amazing,” her daughter, Flavia Pavia, said.


Isabel was born in Artesia on Sept. 27, 1912, about eight months after New Mexico became the 47th state in the United States. Her parents were Jose and Tomasita Valles, and she was the eighth of 16 children, according to Pavia.

At age 10, Isabel moved from Artesia to Vinton, Texas, with her parents and siblings, Pavia said. The family then relocated to the southern Doña Ana County community of La Mesa in 1924 and later settled in nearby San Miguel in 1926.


Pavia said her mother never attended school as a child but taught herself to how read and write in English and Spanish. Isabel spent her childhood helping her mother care for younger siblings, and later worked as a field worker, picking cotton and peas.

In 1935, she married Concepcion. The following year, Pavia, the couple’s first child, was born. They also had two sons, Homero and Renato. The Uribe family lived in San Miguel, where they opened Concho’s Mercantile in 1947.

“They both ran the business until 1972,” said Pavia, who grew up working in the store. “It was a general store and we sold everything from clothing and shoes to fresh meat.”

After retiring in 1972, the couple relocated to Mesilla Park and spent their retirement traveling to places such as Mexico City and other areas, Pavia said. Concepcion died in 2003 at age 95; their son Renato died in 2015 at age 75.


In addition to three children, they have 14 grandchildren, 24 great grandchildren and seven great-great grandchildren, Pavia said.

Today, Isabel enjoys relatively good health — something she and her daughter attribute to a lifetime of working hard and eating right.


“Mama does not eat anything canned. Fresh veggies, she says, that’s the best thing for you,” Pavia said, adding that her mother “has great faith in the Lord.”


But she also has a sweet tooth and regularly bakes batches of oatmeal cookies, or galletas, from a beloved recipe she learned years ago. Her secret? She flavors them with a hint of cinnamon, which she said makes them “very tasty.”

She’s also been making homemade tamales for many decades and still helps spread fresh masa on corn husks when making them with her daughter.

She stays active with housework, tending to her six chickens and playing the board game Rummikub.

Over the past weekend, she celebrated her birthday with large party at a church with more than 150 people in attendance, Pavia said. “Ever since her 100th birthday, we’ve celebrated really big,” she added.

One her gifts included a certificate of recognition from Gov. Susana Martinez that was delivered to her home on Monday. “I wish you many blessings and hope that special day is celebrated with the love of family and friends,” Martinez’s certificate states.

She and her youngest brother, Cleto Valles, 87, are the last of their siblings still living, according to Pavia. “We keep saying, ‘Thank God we have her for another year’ — that is wonderful,” she said.

Carlos Andres López can be reached 575-541-5453, or @carlopez_los on Twitter.

Heads up–not many of us are blessed to live to 105, please don’t wait.

Now go, be inspired, and write your family’s stories. You can do it!



The Skunkinator

Got a funny story in your personal history? Share the memory and ask your family to help fill in any details you’ve missed. Here’s one of mine from a few years back. Hope it brings a smile to your face…


The Skunkinator

My son calls me the “Skunkinator.” Several nights ago our cat, Fudge, came in for the night, bearing the residue of a recent close encounter with a skunk. Fed up, next morning I trudged off to the neighbors to borrow a humane live trap. Jack and Martha have lived out here in the country for 25 years and know a thing or two about skunks.


I was about to be schooled.


Thursday night, I carefully set the trap. Friday morning—nothing. I baited the trap again with a delectable half-serving of peanut butter sandwich, complete with homemade jam. Jack had claimed this would work and I was hoping word about my devious plan had not leaked out among the skunk community. Saturday I forgot about it and went out to dinner with my husband on a long overdue date. Sunday morning, while getting ready for church, I looked out the bedroom window to see Fudge sitting by the trap intently watching a black and white something trot around inside. Our other cat, Socks, matches that description so I thought she’d become a little too curious and been nabbed. Looking again, I yelled, “I got a skunk!” and dashed out the front door in my bathrobe.


Shooing the cat away with difficulty I cautiously approached the trap from behind a tree and observed a very nervous, very small skunk corralled inside. At this point I realized something about live traps. They come in different sizes. This one was designed to contain a full-sized skunk, preventing it from lifting its tail and deploying its defensive mechanism. Jack hadn’t mentioned the size issue. My skunk had room to do laps and set up housekeeping.


I retrieved an old rug from the rag box, mentally rehearsing what I knew about skunks. Number one fact being that skunks won’t spray what they can’t see. My delighted children all trooped out to watch the spectacle. Informing them that I would be releasing Missy Skunk up the river, I busily made plans for dropping her off and making it to church, deciding that in the interest of time I would get dressed first. Garbed in my best pantsuit, I did my hair while my husband proceeded to tell me what nice pets skunks make and did I think the neighbors would mind? I was oblivious to the sly grin with which he delivered this bit of information.


My hair still up in rollers, I carefully held the old rug in front of me like some motherly matador in high heels as I tried to approach the trap without upsetting the skunk. It didn’t work. Small spritzes of cologne-like delicacy let me know that was close enough, thank you. In that last mad dash to throw the rug over the trap my nose must have gone into olfactory overload. The odor honestly didn’t seem too bad at the time.


Carrying trap and all at arms’ length, I carefully deposited it in the back of the pickup then headed inside to wash my hands, breezing by my family, who were all ready and groomed for church. They speedily informed me that I “stunk” and needed to change my clothes. Five minutes later I handed the offending duds out the door to my snickering husband, put on old clothes and prepared to finish the job. We drove Missy Skunk five miles up the river and released her in the thick willow breaks, feeling good about ourselves. She left with one parting defensive salute and never looked back.


I sat at the back of the church that morning in a faint cloud, considering that the good Lord who made both skunks and mothers had taught me something about getting carried away with multi-tasking.

Celebrate Fall with a Triple Header of School Memories

School has been back in session for a few weeks. It’s funny how our early school experiences color our sense of time and seasons for the rest of our lives. Reminiscing about those old school days is a great way to bridge the generations and start some fun conversations with your family. You can even work on these questions while you’re driving the family taxi cab to school, lessons, and sports practices. In fact, that’s a great time to have some meaningful conversations and build your family legacy.


Let’s do a round-up across generations and I’ll give you some examples to get your thoughts going.


First, start with your parents’ or grandparents’ school memories. Start by asking these questions and get your kids involved in the process.


One of your earliest memories about school

Being teased at the bus stop, early encounters with loyal friends and merciless bullies

Favorite teacher

The imaginative, kind English teacher who made those classics come alive with dramatic readings. She pushed us because she knew we could do it.

Quirky teacher or friend from school

The junior high teacher who took on the crazy experience of coaching 29 7th graders in reenacting the kidnapping of Helen of Troy. How great it was to learn how to sword fight like the Greeks and Trojans and how to fake a really dramatic death scene. We loved it!

Favorite or most dreaded school subject or grade in school

Geometry. Proofs. Need I say more?

Field trips, recess, lunchtime memories

Hanging from the monkey bars, rolling inside tractor tires, kickball, trading lunches with your best friend. Spam? Deviled Ham? Tortillas and beans? School cafeteria Spanish rice—yum! I’m not kidding, are you going to eat that? Snorting milk out your nose after your friends cracked a joke. Bet that made you laugh again right now.

Travel to or from school

Did you walk, ride a horse? Take a long bus ride? Was it uphill both ways in the snow? You know the drill, but dig a little, especially for the unique, memorable, that “one time I’ll never forget…”


Some folks didn’t have a typical school experience. Here’s an account from Verena Andregg Mahaney, who grew up on a ranch on what is today White Sands:

(Homes on the Range: Oral Recollections of Early Ranch Life on the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, edited by Peter I. Eidenbach and Beth Morgan, pg. 90):

My Uncle Frank would go to town for supplies. He would go to our teachers at Alameda school in Las Cruces, and he would get work for us to do—homework and books and stuff. Mom would kindly teach us, and then he’d take all this back, you know, when he’d go back for supplies again. He’d take it in to the school and get more work and have ‘em to grade it, and we got report cards like everybody else….


Sports, music, drama memories

Doesn’t matter whether you were a star, a dud, an ever faithful participant or tried to avoid these experiences. Talk about it, what stands out? Can you call up the incredible brain numbing stinging of getting hit in the nose with a basketball? If not, you were a better catch than I was.

What kind of student were you?

How has this played out in the rest of your life? Do you like to learn? Are you still the “class clown?”

What is the most important thing you learned during school?

Think about Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

This from my daughter Alexis:  Having the mindset  that  even if  something doesn’t come naturally , whether a subject or a sport, whatever it is, you can still work hard and do a good job.


Second, answer these same questions for yourself. Note the differences and common things across the years.

Describe your best friend from school

If you could go back to any school year which one would you choose and why?

Have you ever gone back to visit and thank a teacher?


Third, ask your kids or another young relative this same set of questions. Then add a few more into the mix:

What do you dream about being/doing when you grow up?

If you could invent anything what would it be?

What do you like most about school?


After you’ve worked your way through these questions you’ll know your family quite a bit better. You’ll also have completed an entire chapter on school memories for your memoir. Now, how hard was that? What a great way to find some shared interests, learn something new about each other and enjoy some belly laughs at the old memories.

Enjoy your weekend,


Don’t be the Queen of Denial


This month has been full of hard things for so many people — tragic storms, earthquakes, fires, etc. How do you write about hopes and dreams that have gone up in flames, been drowned by sorrow or circumstance or crumbled to pieces in the shaking of life? I’m not talking  about the dreams you wake up from. The hopes and wishes kind.


Here’s some ideas for writing about and dealing with the hard life memories or broken hopes and dreams. They’re part of your story too.


-Describe the dream

-Relate what happened as if you are on the outside observer

-Go back and write about it with the emotion and feelings

-Now, try writing a new ending, what could have happened, what should have happened, what would have happened if….


This is not about being the Queen of Denial; it’s about frame of reference.


Author Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries wrote an insightful article entitled To Get Over Something Write About It  for the Harvard Business Review. His basic premise, upheld by research spanning over 100 years is this:

“The combination of reflective writing and talking about certain key experiences creates a powerful force to help us surmount difficulties and can hasten our capacity to come to terms with (or to digest) events and move on.”


The health benefits of writing about your life are extensive and span the whole of mental, physical and spiritual experience. How you think about the circumstances can help settle it in your memory in a way that is realistic about your life and memories and also helps you move forward with hope, joy and new dreams.

It’s No Laughing Matter

Hey, do you remember the time…?

Or maybe it is. Sometimes the hard things we experience become fuel for some humorous remembering. Baxter Black, one of my favorite humor columnists, regularly turns tales of ranch accidents and disasters involving large animals or recalcitrant transportation into deep- down- laugh -out -loud humor.


This yanks my funny bone because it’s part of my memory bank too. In fact, there are quite a few deposits under this category. You know how people flip houses these days? Well, my parents went through a stage of flipping horses (note—this is not the same as flipping cows at midnight, that’s a whole ’nother story).


My brother and I, as resilient little scrappers, often had the job of “getting the kinks out” of whatever project horse or pony was bunking with the regulars in the barn. In retrospect this taught us both some great life skills we’ve used in a variety of situations from work to home. To this end I’ve ridden, more or less successfully:


-A Morgan with her head so high from driving I could kiss her between the ears. She would have liked to knock out teeth and bloody the nose of whichever human rider was trying to train her to lower her head and relax a bit. Note to self—a battle of the wills seldom succeeds with either horses or people, try a different method.

-Shetland ponies. A succession of them. I will NEVER buy one of these “children’s models” for any future grandkids. These have to classify as the worst bucking off experiences ever. It does not matter if your feet almost touch the ground. You will still fall. Hard.

-A high strung quarter horse mare who introduced me to the whole experience of getting the wind knocked out of you. To her credit, once I was lying on the ground, staring up at her furry belly and gawping for air she stood immobile, tickling my face with stiff whiskers and snuffing at me.

-A small Grulla mare with a genius for solving physics problems on the fly. She had mastered the Olympic sport of scraping a rider off under the lowest branch she could find. Her gift for instantly analyzing the trajectory and height of a rider compared proportionately to the height of a branch qualified her for a degree in higher level math.

-The carnivorous horse who pinned me against the truck so she could steal my bologna and mustard sandwich.


Here’s a couple links to some folks with a gift for seeing the “funny” in life:

Anytime Mike Rowe shares texts and emails from his mom—tune in. They share a similar sense of humor and will help you re-awaken your sense of the ludicrous.


And of course Mr. Baxter Black, check out his regular column or Critter Tales on the website:


How about writing up a quick collection of some of your favorite funny stories this weekend? Also, take a look at the tough times through a wacky humor lens – it sure can help the memories sit a bit better. You are cordially invited to share your own funny story with us—send it in and I’ll include it in an upcoming blog.


Ten Outstanding Questions to Ask Your Grandparents

One amazing life, one chance to live it, share it, tell it. Don’t miss out on helping to save a life by capturing some of your grandparents’ memories. Today I’m giving you 10 questions, print them out, get the grands comfie over cake and coffee after lunch on Sunday, then hit “record” on your phone. Ask the questions. And just listen. Really listen! Follow the rabbit trails by all means, but come back to the questions. It will be one of the best hours you’ve ever spent, I guarantee it.


For more inspiration go to

“Every day can be Grandparents Day. The official commemorative day is the Sunday after Labor Day. If you’re celebrating Grandparents Day throughout the year, these resources can help with ideas on how to Do Something Grand.”


Top 10 Questions

  • What are the 3 most important things in life to you?
  • Describe your best friend in high school.
  • Tell me about how and when you learned to drive.
  • What is the most memorable historical event from your life?
  • What has been the best decision in your life? Why?
  • What has been the worst decision you’ve made? Why?
  • Who has been the kindest to you during your life and why?
  • What makes you laugh? Cry?
  • Describe your childhood.
  • What are you proudest of in your life?


Rev. Berndt — Good Samaritan Society:

“It is an incredible gift to be the recipient of someone’s legacy. It can be life transforming. …. Our lives can be shaped by the legacies that others share with us, but in turn, we have a responsibility and a challenge to share the wisdom … and experience we have gathered over the years.”


Reminder:  Special Offer for Grandparents Day

Do you have amazing grandparents? This Sunday, September 10 is Grandparents Day so in celebration I’m offering a 15% discount on any personal history service booked during the next two weeks. Maybe you want some one on one coaching to jump start your own memoir. Maybe you’d like to give Grandma and Grandpa a photo story book complete with a bit of their personal story. Or perhaps you’d like to honor them with a complete life history. Whatever option you choose, they’re sure to be delighted and now is the perfect time to start.

Contact me at or 575-323-1048 for a free consultation to talk about the possibilities.

I’d love to hear how your Grand Interview went—please let me know. Perhaps I can share your story in an upcoming post.



Special Offer for Grandparents Day


Do you have amazing grandparents? Sunday, September 10 is Grandparents Day, so in celebration I’m offering a 15% discount on any personal history service booked during the month of September. Do you need one on one coaching to jump start your own memoir? Maybe you’d like to give Grandma and Grandpa a photo book complete with a bit of their personal story. Or perhaps you’d like to honor them with a complete life history.


Whatever option you choose, they’re sure to be delighted. Now is the perfect time to share their story.


Contact me at or

575-323-1048 for a free consultation to

talk about the possibilities.