Experience–the Ultimate Guide to Life

A big steaming cup of UGH! Can you think of a mistake that changed the direction of your life? That made you grow? C.S. Lewis said “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”


Let’s keep it real here—that you thought would mortify you to death but that you just laugh about now?


I remember the time as a teenager that I was modeling some clothes in a local boutique. A very high end boutique. Clothing changes had to be quick and no one was there to double check the view before I stepped out onto the floor. After a too-quick check in the dressing room mirror out I sauntered in some fancy outfit. After a few minutes wander through the store I went back to change and caught a glimpse of the rear view. Caught a bit too much of the rear view actually. I had wandered elegantly around the floor with the back of the dress tucked up into my pantyhose. Pure mortification as only a 17 year old can feel it! I hid in the dressing room until the handful of shoppers left.


Important lesson learned–how to laugh at oneself.

AND–check that mirror twice.


Many memories are of much greater  significance than this goofy one. Some  we’ll always look back on with tears. Things we’d do or say differently. There are times I wish I’d been kinder, more compassionate, more patient, more courageous. Yes, but there are times I got it right too, stood firm, went the extra mile, loved not perfectly but well. Can you turn around and take a good look at where you are now? Where you’re going?


Your past shapes your present and future but it does not trap you.


Ask those you care for about the transformative moments in their lives. Try to hit these three main categories:






Give someone the gift of listening to their story and help them pull up memories and emotions that make them who they are today. You just might learn something!

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Egads! Thoughts on Epidemics and Flu

Water cooler and dinner table talk around the country right now centers on this year’s pervasive flu season. Word has it our local hospitals are full of flu and bronchitis cases. Headlines are made with this week’s mortality figures. We are rightly concerned. I am usually running neck and neck with the healthy as a horse cliché but I too succumbed to bronchitis this week.  So in between coughing fits and endless mugs of tea I’ve been thinking about past flu epidemics, measles and polio outbreaks and how we’ve handled them as individuals, families and communities.


I find walking through cemeteries intriguing–disease outbreaks are memorialized in stone in the frequency and proximity of death dates. You may find this gruesome; I view it with a sense of historical curiosity and a great compassion for these human lives that walked this rock before me. Each of these people were fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. They each left memories in those whose lives they touched and made an impact on their world.



Describes the nature of pandemics.


Describes the courage and resilience of the human experience when faced with these world changing pandemics and outbreaks.


Pandemics are of such historical importance that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  created a project called the  Pandemic Influenza Storybook.

“The CDC’s Pandemic Flu Storybook provides readers with a look at the impact pandemic flu events have had on both survivors and the families and friends of non-survivors. These stories are not folklore, but personal recollections. This collection of stories was first released in 2008 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 1918 flu pandemic.”

You can read Sadie’s true story , here’s an excerpt:

This is the story of the 1918 flu pandemic as told by my 97–year–old grandmother, Sadie Afraid of His Horses–Janis.

In her desperation, my great–grandmother, Nancy, had applied the principals of quarantine, prevented cross–contamination, provided hydration and inhalation therapy, and used pharmacology to save her family. To this day, my grandmother Sadie has a medicine bag with flat cedar, sweet grass, bitter–root, and green tea. However, she says she′ll pass on the kerosene and sugar.

Olivia Huggins’ father was a newborn when the flu hit his family:

My dad, Manual Pacheco, was born on July 10, 1918 to Juan de Jesus and Amelia Pacheco in Rainsville, New Mexico. He was their sixth child. When Manual was only 2 months old, his mother, Amelia became ill with the flu. Because she was so sick, she was unable to produce breast milk for Manual. Therefore, Juan fed the baby coffee with sugar added to it until he was able to purchase a goat. The goat’s milk sustained Manual and he survived, and so did his mother. No one else in the family became ill.

I can’t help but wonder if Juan had a terrible time getting that little boy to sleep after dosing him with coffee. However, it was a resourceful solution till the goat showed up.


Here’s another one from the CDC’s website, this one taking place in Wyoming and told by Margarita Pancake:

My father, Elmer “Bud” Pancake, grew up around Lusk, Wyoming. During the great flu pandemic of 1918, there was a county doctor who boasted that he had never lost a patient. His secret weapon was “rotgut” whiskey. He would pour the whiskey into a patient to get them to cough up the phlegm. During the pandemic, he ran out of whiskey and there was none to be had in the community. The only whiskey in Lusk was locked–up in the sheriff′s office as evidence for a bootlegger′s trial. The sheriff refused to release the liquor. So, the doctor got a few prominent citizens together for a kind of vigilante committee that promptly seized the whiskey, depriving the sheriff of his evidence.


1957 brought another flu pandemic, not as bad as the 1918 one, which took 20-50 million lives worldwide, but still a natural force to be dealt with. According to the CDC 70,000 people died in the 1957 flu

An excerpt from storyteller Jack D. Bell, who experienced the flu in Washington in 1958 as a kid:

And, I simply was too uncomfortable to sleep! At one point, I kept asking my poor momma if I was going to die and I told her if this kept up much longer that I didn’t care if I died! I can remember my parents discussing whether they should send me to the hospital, but our family doctor (who actually came to our house; remember when doctors did that?!) told us that my fever would break any time, and I would feel much better. He was right, on the third day I stopped vomiting and got a few hours of sleep. When I woke up, my wonderful mom fed me some chicken soup—my favorite, and I kept it down. I missed about a week of school, which I didn’t mind.



Although some medical treatments have changed, much of the deceptively simple homing nursing care remains the same and goes a long ways towards helping folks recover. Most of us have experienced having  the flu run through the entire household and it can truly be said to be a family bonding experience. I bet you still talk about it.

Photo–1918, France — Patients lie in Influenza Ward No. 1 in U.S. Army Camp Hospital No. 45 in Aix-les-Baines, France,during World War I. | Location: Aix-les-Baines, France. — Image by © CORBIS


Below are links to a couple fascinating books about the great flu epidemic of 1918 if you’d like to read more. May we learn and be inspired.

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World





The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History Revised Edition


An excerpt from the editorial description:

“At the height of WWI, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide…1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease. Magisterial in its breadth of perspective and depth of research and now revised to reflect the growing danger of the avian flu, The Great Influenza is ultimately a tale of triumph amid tragedy, which provides us with a precise and sobering model as we confront the epidemics looming on our own horizon.“


Many of us have parents or grandparents or friends who can remember flu, measles or polio scares. Talk to them and ask how it impacted their lives, school, community.

Now, I’m going to get yet another cup of tea. May you stay healthy and well this flu season,



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How to Hack Your Childhood Memories

Writing prompts are great conversation starters. Exploring childhood memories is a great place to start, whether you’re working on your own story or helping a friend or family member. Don’t be satisfied with “Oh, I had a good childhood, or “My growing up years were rough.”

Get specific and sensory whether you’re telling your own story or helping draw out someone else’s.


Kim Kautzer of WriteShop has a great list of questions to get those memories flowing, check out her blog  on Childhood Memory Writing  for inspiration. She says:

“As vivid as the moment seems at the time, memories fade. These prompts will help jog them. Invite your older children to participate. They’re in closer proximity to their memories, and can usually remember the details more vividly….”


Here’s an example using one of her prompts:

  1. Describe your favorite hideaway.

Before middle school hit like a freight train full of angst I’d spend hours at a time in my secret warm, dusty hideout. During these late childhood years I’d wrestle a few sweet smelling hay bales around so they made a little cave up in the top of the pole barn. Then, I’d climb down to collect whatever book I was reading that week, tuck a cat under one arm and clamber back up to my nest, being careful of my chronically skinned knees. Curling my long skinny frame onto an old coat spread out on the hay I’d settle into my secret sanctuary with a contented cat and book.

Safe, quiet, peaceful. Traveling to distant places, getting lost in story, daydreaming about winning the track meet, becoming a writer or just the sweet red headed boy who said “hi.” Kid stuff yes, but crucial deposits into a bank of memories to draw on through life.


Learning to communicate well is a skill you can nurture in anyone, whether 5 or 75. If you have kiddos who are “reluctant writers” take a look at the rest of the WriteShop website, you’ll find a wealth of practical help. Pass it along to your teacher friends too.


Childhood memories could also turn into a bit of story like this:

Grandma had a penchant for daydreaming and a vivid imagination and used these skills to liven up the duties and routine of caring for a large family. Rosie had discovered this one summer when she’d been sent to help Grandma on the farm, and, she suspected, get her out of her overworked mother’s hair for a few weeks. She’d promised that she would help and not sleep too late and do chores without being told, and wash the dishes and, the list went on.

When she arrived at the Big House however, that’s what her dad always called the old white Victorian, she discovered that Grandma was energetic and capable and didn’t feel overworked in the least. On the contrary, as she bustled about her morning routine with the sun shining in through the wavy glass of the old windows, Rosie had followed her around, trying to help and watching her. Grandma was quick to smile, her green eyes crinkling at the corners. She was patient to and Rosie did learn, but it took her three times as long to do a chore as it did Grandma who smoothly went through the motions of caring for her home and family just like she had for all the decades of her adult life.

Rosie shyly asked about what things were like when Grandma was a girl, then got lost in the stories she told as they hung up sheets in the grass scented breeze outside on the drying lines or picked sun warmed blackberries in the garden, licking the juice off their fingers and feeling the delicious pop when biting down on a ripe berry. They made cobbler in her big cast iron skillet with Grandma’s homemade sweet biscuit dough.


Where will your childhood memories take you? Use Kim’s list of thought provoking questions and do three things: answer them yourself and interview both a child and an older person. You can learn a lot from your friends at both ends of the age spectrum.

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Winter Fun and Fashion

Southern  New Mexico is smack in the middle of a La Nina weather pattern. Which means not a lot of the white stuff for us this year. I’m missing that snow so here’s a link to some cold weather duds and fun from days gone by:





I really like the lady skiing behind her fuzzy coated horse in slide 7. That would have been me in the last century. Also, the motor sleigh in slide 10 is a riot! Forerunner of the snowmobile I guess.


One of the beautiful things about the Southwest is our mild weather and sunshine but we get the cold weather friskies just like folks in days gone by. Notice how everyone is smiling in the slide show above?

Of course, their faces might be frozen that way.


Anyone have some old pics of winter fun or fashion in our neck of the woods? And for those of you that follow along from other parts of the country—send ‘em in, we want to see! In fact, here’s a couple winter shots from a memorable trip I took with my daughter to England a few years back—right after their worst ice storm in 30 years. Made for some gorgeous scenery! These pics were taken  in Keswick and Penrith in the Northern England lake country.


Can you share some vintage winter photos and stories of what you or your family used to do for fun when the mercury dropped? Anyone have an old story your grandparents used to tell of a cold winter back in the early 1900s here in New Mexico? I’d love to hear it.


Or maybe your family recalls winter storms when you get together. One of my personal history clients tells of the terrible blizzard of ’57 that hit nine states and made national headlines, sweeping across New Mexico and the plains states.


Cattleman Pat Withers in the oral history collection Homes on the Range, (Peter Eidenbach and Beth Morgan) recalls a June snowstorm in the Tularosa Basin:

“…It come 3 inches of the wettest snow in the forest –three of the wettest, coldest cowboys you ever saw in your life. We went up there the day before and gathered and bedded ’em down on the fence line that night.

Went up there the next mornin’, just as pretty a day as you ever saw. and here come a northern over that hill, just a big ol’ black cloud, and went to snowin’ and the wind a blowin’; boy, we liked to froze to death –we’s in our shirt sleeves. it was ’44, I believe…that’s the coldest I’ve ever been. i finally dug into a big ol’ beargrass and got it on fire, and we stood around that as close as we could and kinda dried out and warmed up….”

Whichever winter story you have, fun or fright, share it with us and start the conversation.

Here’s a hot chocolate toast to all,


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Outfox Yourself and Meet that Goal

Happy New Year Everyone! Each day is an investment—do you ever think about your own personal stash of 24 hours that way?


I have been experiencing a technology flash back the last few days. My landline has been down and the internet access sporadic. While I don’t pretend to understand how this all works it has led to some wonderfully quiet days of spending time with family, reading a slew of paperback mysteries and hanging out with the pets in front of the fire. Pretty nice!


Phone repairs are set to happen tomorrow and in the meantime I hope to grab a brief internet window and post this. On this first day of the year the gorgeous New Mexico sunshine is calling so I’m doing a little outside work and thinking about where I’d like to take this blog during 2018.


How best to number my days?


I’ve finished up the second of two major book projects at the end of 2017 and have been thrilled to help these families save their stories. They join the large group of folks who have put on their bucket list– “I want to write a book” and the small group that have accomplished it. Congratulations! I have been blessed to be part of making that happen. Thank you!


This year I have room to take on five new coaching clients. If you want some hands on personalized help telling your story or that of someone you love contact me and let’s talk about how to get you started. You’ll have a lot of fun working on this goal; it’s an amazing and satisfying experience.


You too can make this happen in 2018. Let this be the year!


Blessings to you all as you stand poised to open your gift of a brand new year.




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Contact Me

Please contact me for more information or to to schedule a free consultation. I look forward to visiting with you.

    Karen Ray Photo

    Karen Ray

    Address: 331 Bristol Avenue, Las Cruces, NM, 88001

    Phone: 575-323-1048