Great Ways to Celebrate Your Graduate – Part 1

graduation gift ideas

Students all around the country are working hard and preparing to wrap up their education. The internet is exploding with pet videos to distract and soothe their weary minds and familys everywhere are making plans to celebrate. In this 2-part article I’ll share ideas for saving your favorite graduate’s life memories and adventures to date. Student memoirs rock!

Sharing about what life was like back in the day when our parents and grandparents were in school is a much-loved holiday dinner tradition. Their stories of adventures, struggles and the chore of walking uphill both ways to school always make us groan and laugh. We learn much from their experiences. It sure does me good to hear about not only their grit and determination, but their shenanigans too.

That said, years from now your young person’s family will want to see photos and hear the stories of events that helped shape them into who they are. This will become part of their family history.

You can help with a gift you can make yourself! Here are the first 2 of 3 steps you can take to focus your ideas, gather material, and then share this wonderful story. The key to creating this in a short amount of time is to narrow the scope of your project, gather all your material in one place and then use easy online or physical tools to make it a creative reality.

Step 1
Pick Your Graduate and Your Theme
Let’s use the example of a high school or college age student about to graduate. Decide whether you want to run through quick highlights of their life or focus on a theme of sports, music, hobbies or other interests.

For young folks I highly recommend doing an overview of their life as it shows so many different sides of who they are as a person. This will delight and honor them! Even big “kids” love seeing photos of themselves and hearing stories about growing up. Yes, even though they’ve heard them before. In fact, especially because they’ve heard them before! Include things that show them how valued and loved they are.

We all know the importance of having physical copies of photographs around. In fact, a gifted wedding photographer friend said she could not emphasize this enough. A photo storybook carries the same weight of importance and will be loved and treasured by your graduate.  

Besides, when that solar flare or some other catastrophe finally hits, don’t you want your family to have keepsakes they can enjoy without electricity? Oh yes you do! And we all know those convenient cell phones that hold most of your photos sometimes meet an untimely end in laundry or toilet. Don’t make them the sole repository of your life’s memories.

Step 2
Gather Your Material
Pull together photos, artwork, notes, and stories from your graduate’s growing up years. If you decided to work with a theme keep this in mind as you make your choices. I like to take material and photos from about every 2-3 years during a young person’s life. This  usually captures major changes and life events and illustrates their progression of growth and interests.

A fun idea is to interview your subject about some of their key memories of growing up. Don’t tell them what it’s for! Even an hour or two of visiting can give you a wealth of stories to transcribe and include in your book. Best of all, you’ll both enjoy the process and you’ll also have their voice telling the stories. How awesome is that?

Best tip ever:
Do include a few school photos … BUTInclude primarily candid photos, not those posed school photos; casual shots truly capture personality.

(Next week, the rest of the story, stay tuned!)
Thanks for sharing your time with me!

Share this:

School Days: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for Memoir Writers

School attendance is a high profile current topic and rightly so. We spend so much of our childhood in school, it has a profound effect on our likes, dislikes, character, love of learning, and friendships. These experiences provide a motherlode of material for memoir writers and family historians.

When I’m doing oral history interviews or memoir coaching, I find that school memories are always a rich source of content. We remember the GOOD, cherish, and laugh about it. We shudder at the BAD and often still carry the scars. We might count the UGLY among our most embarrassing memories, our funniest, or any number of other emotional boxes we shove our stories into.  

Working on your family history or memoir? Think about experiences with teachers and schools, both GOOD and BAD.  I had many great teachers, a few indifferent ones, some who were pretty average, and yes, some who were just bad. But, doesn’t this describe most of us at different times in our career and lives? We might never know the back stories of those whose lives intersect our own, including teachers and schoolmates. So, I have compassion, healthy boundaries, and have tried to learn from each of these educational realities.  

You might have been shamed by a teacher frustrated that you didn’t “get” their favorite subject matter. Geometry anyone? How you handled this, or didn’t, and moved forward is an important part of your story.  Maybe you were encouraged by another teacher who saw something positive and excellent in you? Perhaps it was wordsmithing skills in composition class, or your face lighting up (not literally- that might have been on the BAD list) over a chemistry experiment, an art assignment, building something useful in shop class or having a great understanding of history.   Whatever it was, these experiences shaped you.

I’ve been an educator much of my life and love to see those “aha” moments when an idea becomes real and personal for someone. It happens in workshops, on zoom calls, even in feedback on social media posts. The lovely thing is, I’m always learning right along with you! Think back on your school experiences. There was GOOD, there was BAD, there was UGLY! Each of these is full of story, dig in and write about them.  

Want to join others interested in writing their story? I’ve opened up a new private FaceBook group, Family History & Memoir Writers Fellowship, just for you! We’ll encourage each other in our storytelling journeys, have fun, share stories, crowdsource solutions, and prompt each other with inspiration and great ideas. We’re stronger and more creative together. Click the link above to check it out and I’ll see you on the inside!
Share this:

How to be a Family History Clutter Cutter

family history, memoir writing

A friend posted this statement today in a memoir writing discussion thread:  “Tomorrow is too late, live today” Then she asked, “Would you agree?” Wow! I can’t stop thinking about this, it’s such an interesting thought and question.

Carpe Diem! Seize the Day!

So many people become stuck in the mire of perfection. Someday, when “x” happens, if this is settled, then I’ll…. We’ve all talked this way. But then…decades go by and you’ve missed out on precious time and memories.

While of course it’s wise to plan and implement for today, tomorrow, and the future, there are opportunities and decisions that must be acted on in the moment. Over analyzing can keep us stuck. That said, it is never too late to take the next right step! As for me, I thrive on balanced living in all three time zones, past, present, and future (I do work with memoir, after all). This one life is a priceless gift and I don’t want to waste a minute of it. So today is simple, sweet, and designed to get you future authors and family historians un-stuck.

Here’s one big Seize the Day tip, it’s like a NEON YELLOW easy button, that can help you move forward with writing your memoir or family history:

#1:  REPURPOSE things you’ve already created to get a jumpstart on your memoir content. Can you really do this? Sure thing –  letters, recipes, journal entries, newspaper clippings, even descriptions of gifts you’ve made can form the foundation for a new chapter. You can include them as is, expound on the material, or use them as memory prompts. Create a themed collection if you like and make a simple photo book.

Photo book companies send out frequent discounts and can be an easy way to share the story of your keepsakes. Think beyond just photos, you can add story text, recipes, use your imagination. Try Shutterfly, Blurb, Mixbook, Snapfish, Picaboo to name just a few…search for the sales codes.

Now is the ideal time to begin thinking about a simple project to create as a gift for upcoming holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. Books like these gain instant heirloom status and are the secret sauce in memorable gift-giving.

By sharing the story behind family history keepsakes everyone benefits. No one gains if they stay shoved in a box. It is not the item that is of value but the memories behind it. Are you getting the most mileage from these materials you can? Do a little digging and help your family gain a rich understanding of  their background and history. You’ll have fun in the process.

Bonus tip: Bet you thought of at least a couple items in your family history collection that you can do this with. Now, go and IMMEDIATELY APPLY these ideas to your treasures while the thought is fresh. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write out everything that comes to mind. Organize it later!

Need help? Feel free to contact me anytime and we’ll brainstorm some options. I’d love to hear from you!


Share this:

Memoir Spotlight on a New Mexican Musical Folklore Legend

Cipriano Vigil -A New Mexico Legend – Mini Memoir

I was born and raised in the small village of Chamisal, New Mexico where I received my early education. Part of that education was in the local schools, but most importantly, it came from my mother and grandparents, and from the local musicians. One of the most influential learning experiences was gathering at the “Resolanas”, the sunny side of a house, to play music. Several musicians of all ages would gather there to practice and also to share music and songs. For some it was a learning experience, for others it was a practice session. These musicians became known as the “Resolaneros.”

This was a time before television and the local dances were a major form of entertainment. Local musicians played and at a very young age I would sneak out of the house in order to go to the dances to learn the music. I would wait until I thought my mother was asleep, and for added protection I turned my jacket inside out as a disguise. Then I would creep out the window and run to the dance. My reason was to learn the music of my people. I would stand in front of the musicians with a little pad of paper and a pencil and draw the frets of a guitar and takes notes where the musicians placed their fingers. I watched how they strummed. I observed, I took notes, and I learned. Then…………. I would make my way home through the dark night, climb quietly back in through the window and find…………. My mother waiting for me with a belt! How do mothers know everything? Still, as she fell back to sleep, I would remain awake and as quietly as I could I would practice what I had seen, and in this manner I taught myself how to play.

Music was simply a part of my culture and many of the boys could play instruments. The balmy summer nights were perfect for adventure, music, and fun! We’d plan where to meet, and then, again with mothers asleep, we’d rendezvous at the appointed time, steal a neighbor’s chicken, take off up into the mountains, and there, under the pine trees, we’d roast the chicken over an open campfire and play music and sing until dawn. Each of us shared with the others what we had learned and we built a repertoire.

There was a local man who was very knowledgeable, knowing the old songs from days past. I so wanted to learn these and found a way to get him to teach me. It so happened that in addition to his love of music, he also had a love of wine. And so trades were made! I supplied the wine, and he sang the songs for me. I collected, in my head. I did not yet know how to either read or write music, so I memorized. I memorized a lot of songs.

Sometimes I would try in [vane] to get the older boys to teach me. “No,” they would yell, “go away. You are too little.” But I wasn’t and it made me angry and I yelled back, “Someday I will be better than all of you,” and for emphasis I went after them with my slingshot.

A turning point came when I got older and was playing professionally without any formal training. I was completely self taught. A lady approached me at a break between sets and asked if I would play a song for her. “Sure,” I said. She handed me some sheet music. I looked at it in complete confusion. What side was up? Which down? What were these symbols? I realized I had a weakness. A bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a PhD followed.

I received my baccalaureate degree in Music Education from Highlands University. Upon completion of my undergraduate work I received a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in Bilingual Education, again from HIghlands University. Another scholarship followed. This time from the Mexican government. In Mexico I studied at the National Institute of Fine Arts where I obtained a second master’s degree, this one on Ethnomusicology. While studying in Mexico I would go to every and any place where music was played, including dance halls and bars. From these excursions I absorbed the knowledge of so many different styles of music.

I began my career as a professor at Northern New Mexico College in 1980, and retired from that institution in 2004. It was during this time that I also completed my doctorate in Ethnomusicology, which I received in 1988. This same year I became the Chairperson of the Fine Arts Department, a position I held for ten years. Because of my love of music and teaching I have continued to work at NNMC as a part time instructor in folk music.

My early background and training in music has instilled in me a passion for preserving and disseminating the folk music of northern New Mexico. From my several presentations at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D. C., to the elementary school classrooms of New Mexico, and cowboy poetry gatherings in Elko, Nevada , I have done thousands of performances and presentations. I have brought this music to various regions throughout the U.S. and have performed in several states in the country of Mexico. These presentations consist not only of traditional New Mexican folk music but also La Nueva Canción (the new songs), a style that originated in South America.

I have also preserved this music on recorded CDs. I have self published a four volume set of traditional New Mexican folk music, with accompanying CDs that I use with my students at NNMC. Another self published work is a collection of my own compositions written in this traditional style as well as the style of La Nueva Canción. I also self published a manuscript of sixty-seven of my compositions for violin and guitar, which I use with my folk ensemble class. I have written several compositions for theatrical performances and for films. Recently I have composed and recorded several one movement symphonic works named Poemas Musicales (musical poems). UNM Press is currently publishing a book I wrote of the folklore of New Mexico which will be accompanied by twenty-one long playing CDs.

In my many presentations at the local schools I bring part of my collection of over three hundred musical instruments from around the world. I play them and give the students a little history of the instrument. It is a joy to me to see their expressions as they become excited about music, their culture, and the culture from which the various instruments have evolved.

My presentations and performances have won me several prestigious awards. These include being honored as a Living Treasure, the Governor’s Award, the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities Award. I have been nominated three times for the National Heritage Award for outstanding work in maintaining and preserving traditional folk music.

My son, Cipriano Pablo Vigil, and my daughter, Felicita Vigil Piñón, also perform with me in concerts. They learned and have been practicing these same traditions and music since a very young age. My son and daughter have been performing with me for about 25 years.

Recently, my granddaughter Marisol Vigil (14 years old), my grandson Mitzael Piñón (8 years old), and my youngest grandson Alonzo Vigil (3 years old) have been performing with us on stage.

My repertoire consists of several styles of music and songs that branch out to all the different varieties found in northern New Mexico. My specialty is the traditional folk music, including the ritual music, and my original compositions, which falls into the category of La Nueva Canción (the new song form).

Here are links to Cipriano’s music and his cigar-box guitars, enjoy!…/cigar-box-guitar/

(Article shared with permission from Rosabelle Marie, moderator of the FaceBook page New Mexico History/Albuquerque Reminiscing/Photos, you can connect with Cipriano at

I love to share memoir examples to inspire you to save your own history. Share this example with someone you’d like to encourage to write their story. Remember, a memoir can be as long or short as you like, just begin. Happy memoir writing!

Share this:

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