Beautiful Things: The Remarkable Power of Memory Triggers

Who isn’t transported back to a childhood of summer nights when you light up a sparkler? How about when you smell a new box of crayons? Fresh grass, saddle soap and leather? What things bring on the memories for you?


Look around your house, pick out three objects that someone else has given you. Write a short paragraph about each one:  who gave it to you, what was going on in your life at that time, how the gift or person made you feel.



What emotions and memories are called up when you see or hold that object? This is a great tool to use with people of all ages. Holding a tangible object often helps our brains call up vivid memories. Working with someone with a fading memory? Try this technique to realize a breakthrough and delight the one you love. Working with children? Many of their memories involve things they can touch and feel, mine the wealth of concrete images to help them remember.


I recently read a sample of The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha. If you’re looking for some inspiration to prompt your memory trips or visits with others pick this up. Some of the Awesome-ness Pasricha writes about lie in things, others in experiences.

In fact, to celebrate life I’m giving away a copy to one person. I’ll draw the winner’s name from those that comment with an example of an object and the memories it holds for you.








My father passed away a few days ago.  He would have loved this book and I wish I’d had a chance to share it with him. We often talked about the beauty of the ordinary. The small mother of pearl pocketknife he gave me when I was a teenager brings back many memories. Those thoughts springboard my mind further into the past to childhood fishing and camping trips when he took the time to teach me the proper way to use one. My first successful smoothly peeled white pine stick, the coppery taste of a nicked thumb when I didn’t pay attention, the gleaming trout caught with his help, cleaned with a pocketknife and cooked in the heavy cast iron skillet.


An old blue flannel shirt that he wore on outdoor adventures is precious to me. Touching it calls up memories of campfire smoke, horses and the clean warm smell of pine and leather.


A copy of The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. He encouraged me to read it and said how much he had enjoyed it. I did and cried over the beauty and sadness of the story. He listened and understood. Understood all that was unspoken in my full heart. And hugged me.


“I do not understand how anyone can live

without some small place of enchantment to turn to.” … M. Rawlings


Another book, The Trees Stand Shining: Poetry of the North American Indians. The first book of poetry I’d ever read. The copyright is 1971. My childish signature is scrawled carefully inside the front cover. A precious object.


At the edge of the world

It is growing light.

The trees stand shining.

I like it.

It is growing light.


These objects are just things. Their priceless value is not monetary but in their ability to take me to people, places and times that have places of honor in my heart.

May you rightly hold the objects in your life as connections to the people you love. What objects can you put your hands on today that take you back? Going to visit an elderly friend or relative this weekend? Take along something to prompt their memories. We love to read books about the things that connect the threads of our lives. In fact, next week I’ll bring you a review of a recent read that beautifully shows how this is done.


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Mining for a Story of Gold

O’Tay Spanky! Want the story but hate to write? I can help with that–you talk, I’ll write about your gang. Whether you’re planning a family reunion this year and want to capture those family stories, or Aunt Mabel and Uncle Jim just crack you up with their memories and life view, don’t wait till yet another year has gone by.

Poll your family and find out what kinds of stories they most want to know.



Weekly Tip:

Come up with your top 10 life events


Don’t edit them, just write ‘em down. The recollections that rise to the top are the natural place to start. Then we can have a fun, focused conversation where I help you flesh out the events, drawing out the details and the who, what, where, when and why.


I like to think of it as gold mining. And boy can I help you get to the precious stuff.  I’ll do all the heavy lifting and you will have the joy of accomplishment as you hold that book in your hands or listen to the recording of the person you love telling their story.



Here’s some inspiration:

In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir, author Victoria Costello prompts the reader:

“Like reliable old friends, these familiar faces, lines of conversations, favorite songs, and images of pivotal events are always there…these memories will give you some starting places from which to begin brainstorming.”


We’ll work together to pick a theme or focus, then I’ll customize your personal history project to your needs. There’s no reason why this can’t be the year you tell your story. Or — you can gang up, in a friendly way of course, on your much loved relatives. Everybody pitch in make it happen as a gift for your parents’ anniversary or Grandma or Grandpa’s important birthday.


The story journey is part of the gift—they’ll never get another one like it.


Can you believe it? We’re already through January! We are booking for family reunions now, working in partnership with a talented local photographer to get those photos of your family’s one-of-a-kind precious faces. Need a workshop or speaker for your civic group? Add your event to our calendar today.


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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