How to Write About Your “WHEN”

Remember when…?

Do your stories often start out, “When I was little…” or “When I traveled to X that summer…” or maybe “When we lived on the ranch…”? Master outdoor humor writer Patrick McManus wrote many books set during the WHEN of his growing up years with his best friend Crazy Eddie. If you haven’t sampled his stories try this one, The Grasshopper Trap.

Your WHEN, like the other memoir keys, will overlap with the other  aspects of your story. However, this one serves as the large, solid master key in jump starting your memoir. You get to decide when to focus your story. Spend time reflecting on the times that have stayed fresh in your memory, what stands out? When does your mind like to travel back to? If you’re not sure, talk it over with friends or family and try to narrow down your story to an impactful time frame. Often when we talk our story out with others or ask them what stories they hear us tell the most, we will find our WHEN. You may be surprised at the feedback  others give you about the stories and events they find most intriguing  in your life.  Remember, the decision is yours but don’t be afraid to explore a bit before you settle on your WHEN.

Memoirs can be narrowly focused on a short time period and be as short as a personal essay or book length. They can also cover an entire life…the choice is up to you. What stands out most to you as you think back over your life and times? Think about where the story lies, what grabs your heart, mind and soul?

Photos are great tool for narrowing down your WHEN. Go through your collection and set aside a few extra photos that illustrate this well for you. It’s good to have choices and your memories will be prompted by different images, see where they take you.

If you’re working on someone else’s story what memories tend to come up repeatedly when you’re talking with them? The answer to this question will help you focus your WHEN. Your chosen time might be dependent upon a memorable historical event or season. For example, the novel The Grapes of Wrath focuses on one family during the Great Depression. The Journals of Lewis and Clark cover one massive exploration event. The Diary of Anne Frank is constrained not only in its “when” but its location.

Look for the key moments and pay attention to what else was going on in the world at that time. This will often help shape the other sections of your memoir, especially the WHY.  Explore  the nature of your story’s WHEN, one story at a time. If you’re working with a grandparent or other elder, or perhaps even someone who’s no longer alive, this technique works well. Good questions to ask might be related to technological advancements like a lunar landing, world shaking events like wars and  natural disasters, or the rise or fall of a world leader. Just as we’re sharing stories of our experiences during this worldwide pandemic, others did the same thing during the 1918 flu epidemic. These are universal human experiences full of story.

If your WHEN covers childhood, mine the events of that time for relevant material, they are some of our favorite recollections. There are countless television shows, movies, and books written about childhood memories. Remember the much-loved Wonder Years television series? Or  The Waltons? These story lines did an amazing job of tying in larger societal events in the context of their impact on the characters. Memoirs work the same way. Your impressions and reactions to the events you witnessed at that specific point in time are unique to you but will resonate with others in the universal human language of emotion.

Perhaps your story will center around  coming-of-age or a season of loving a favorite pet.  The book Rascal, by Sterling North tells the delightful story of one young boy’s pet racoon. Fiction uses the same technique, think about the narrow time setting in To Kill a Mockingbird.

The stories we tell around the family dinner table or at holiday gatherings often start with the phrase “Remember when…?” Revisit these conversations in your mind and as you review your photographs, it will help you define the time setting of your story. Think both broad and narrow; your WHEN might involve personal or family life events that charted the course of your own days. Or historical events you witnessed may call you to share your perspective. You were there, you lived it, share your memories. Brainstorm what you felt, saw and heard. You get the idea, free write everything you can think of.

Remember your first love? That first car or job or when you first moved out on your own? Your wedding day or the birth of your children?  Take your pick, there’s a wealth of memories lying behind the door your WHEN key will unlock. Involve your senses as you take notes and prep for working on this part of your story. What did the flowers look and smell like? How about the food that was served? Maybe the smell of fresh tilled fields always takes you back to that childhood summer on the farm. Do you remember the first time you went to the fair; the smell of corndogs and cotton candy mixed with the livestock barns? Unforgettable! Remember…the smell of a summer rainstorm, walking a favorite dog and hugging his soft side, the taste of Grandma’s fresh chocolate chip cookies, the smell of your great uncle’s pipe tobacco, the stories heard while spending time with a loved grandparent.

Pay attention to what stands out as you write down or record your memories, note the emotions and thoughts that rise up repeatedly. This is most often where your story lies – its the WHEN key under the mat, the sign post for your memoir. Give the future a gift of memories, personal and world history from your perspective.

Spend some time choosing your WHEN, you’ll be glad you did. This key will unlock doors and the stories will come tumbling out.

Share this:

How to do a Fun Family Interview

Family fun memories

Need a fun activity to do virtually with your family this year? (works great in person too if you’re fortunate enough to be together) Try a Day in the Life interview. It’s short and loads of fun for everyone.

One way to affirm those you love and help them recall good memories is to put on your journalist hat and ask them a few questions.

Bonus tip – kids love playing this role and you can capture great video footage or still shots of them interacting with relatives.

People are often delighted to relate stories of a specific time in their life, especially when they get to pick it. Just ask, “What age was particularly special for you?” Then, ask relevant Day in the Life questions around that time period.

You’ll need:

  • A video or voice recorder – your smart phone will do just fine (optional)
  • A willing relative or friend
  • 2-4 photos or items to serve as memory prompts (optional)
  • Paper and pencil
  • 1 hour of time

We love to hear our family and friends reminisce about holidays. Hearing these stories and sharing memories strengthens our family bonds. Relating stories is also a terrific way to help the younger generations connect and develop a sense of family and place. They need to hear memories and wisdom passed down from their elders. They love to hear what childhood was like back in the day or hear about how Grandpa traveled 24 hours on military leave just to be with his sweetheart, Grandma.

So much changes over the decades, world events, technology, customs, a Day in the Life interview can open the door for a sneak peek into the story of someone you care about. Even the many things that stay the same nurture traditions. Make sure you add plenty of sensory details as you go through the following questions. You’ll all be glad you did!

Tip: If your interview pal is giving very short answers ask about a sensory detail, like “What color was it?” or “How did that taste?”. This will help warm them up to describe the memory further and usually prompts other memories.

Here’s a few starter questions (For example’s sake we’ll target childhood and Christmas):

  • How did your family celebrate Christmas (or Hanukah or another special holiday)?
  • What things did you do leading up to the holiday?
  • Describe how you felt that morning/evening.
  • Which relatives typically visited? Describe one of your favorites and why you loved them.
  • Would you describe a particularly memorable holiday?
  • Describe a favorite food from that holiday. Did you help make it?

The book Recording Your Family History, by William Fletcher provides interesting prompts and questions  for recording childhood holiday memories:

 “Think back and describe who would be there around the table and what it was like for you on that holiday.”

The Travel Channel has a fun list of 20 Holiday Traditions Around the World. Las Posadas in Mexico is one of my favorites. Take a look to spark your creativity.

And a few more ideas:

  • What was your favorite tradition?
  • Were there special religious festivities as part of your holiday celebration?
  • Did you ever receive or give a gift with especially great meaning?
  • What do your holidays look like now?
  • What holiday foods from your family history are still part of your celebration? Tamales? Lutefisk? Baklava?

Life is full of celebrations – they set the rhythm of our years. We love to share the details of special ways we mark the days. This holiday season talk with your family and friends about some of your cherished traditions and customs. This is a wonderful way to connect even virtually during the restricted visiting this year. Loop a neighbor into the fun to help them feel loved and part of the party.

I’d love to hear about your holiday memories, drop me a line or share it on FaceBook.

Share this:

Not Crafty? 5 Ways to Make Vision Boards Work for You

Mind Maps or Vision Boards for your memoir or writing project are a tool to help you focus on what’s important. They can be a tremendous help in finding your theme and direction.

How you create your mind map or what it looks like aesthetically doesn’t have any bearing on how well it will work. Use whatever technique makes sense to you!

Want to find out more? Take a look at this post to find out how boards can help you:

IF you have the Martha Stewart crafty gene in you, make your vision board as pretty as can be. Add pieces of fabric, paint an abstract background with your favorite colors, or dig out your long lost scrapbook supplies and utilize those beautiful printed papers and fun stickers.

However, if you don’t have a crafty gene nor have the desire to develop  a crafty side

or if you’re male and want a more masculine look – have no fear: you can still make a no-frills mind map or vision board that suits your style and that will work!

1. Bulletin board. Buy an inexpensive cork board and use thumbtacks to attach your photos. Using tacks makes it especially easy to move your photos around or to take some off after you’ve settled in on your theme or reached specific goals.

2. Vision books. If you have multiple goals for different parts of your project, then creating a vision book keeps all those goals on separate pages but still together in the same book. A simple journal or a larger scrapbook serves the purpose. However, to keep the creativity flowing be sure to keep it out where you can see it and look at your book every day.

3. Digital vision boards. For those who can whiz around the internet at the speed of light, digital vision boards are time savers. Search for a free template or use Canva’s grid template.

Simply upload your photos and quotes to your chosen template and save. Save it as your wallpaper on your computer and phone. This can prompt great ideas and help you use down time to add to your project. You can use a note taking app or good old pencil and paper to capture those ideas before they’re gone. Go one step further and have your vision board professionally printed on photo paper at your local photo shop. Post it up at home to remind you of your project goals. Here’s an example to get you started:

4. Hang a single photo. Hang a photo that inspires you, that’s your project “why” or one that perfectly illustrates your theme where you can see it every day. Keep that goal at the back of your mind, it will simmer away in your subconscious and help you come up with creative ideas and clarity.

What photo inspires you?

5. Write a vision statement. For those who are born wordsmiths, forget about the pretty pictures and write out your goals instead. However, write it as a letter to yourself, 10 years into the future. Describe what you’re doing and where you’re living, among other things, as if you’ve been living that life for 10 years and are giving an update to your long lost friend.

Creating a non-traditional mind map or vision board or writing a vision statement is just as powerful as a traditional outline. Maybe more so! The most important point is voicing your goals and taking action to achieve those goals. How you package up your vision is completely arbitrary. Have some fun and make it work for you!

Share this:

Family Reunion Fun

When I first wrote about planning family reunions back in 2018 none of us could have imagined the events of this year. Yes, it’s been tough, but families still go on and it’s more important than ever to find ways to connect.

Are you able to plan a road trip to your family reunion? Parked in Paradise has some great tips about getting the most of your next road trip. Their Roadtrip Handbook to the USA is just what you need.

Maybe you’re planning a reunion for next summer? My friends at Life In Tandem Photography still take awesome wedding and event photos and here at  Remembering the Time  we still specialize in capturing the best stories to help you save your family’s memories for the future.  Teamed up we are unbeatable!

Maybe you’re trying to pull off a virtual family reunion this year.

Is that even a thing?

Yes, ma’am, it is! Following are some ideas to get you started:

Here’s several additional ideas sure to ramp up the fun and connection at your next reunion, whether it’s virtual or in person. If you’re able to meet this year on a small scale, we hope you safely enjoy.

But, guess what?

You can try these games with your family at home. Videotape yourselves or take still photos, then create a collage version of your Family Reunion.  You can even assign each family in your clan to try a different game and send in the results. You’re sure to find some new favorites among the following games that will get everyone laughing. Thanks to Brian at OutsideHow for sending this over:

Brian notes that for many people “…deep down, their hearts seem to be yearning for meaningful relationships, amidst the havoc.” Reunions and family gatherings help us connect. Brian’s article is packed full of some of the best games for family groups. You could even put your own unique twist on many of these. He says, “Games bring a smile to people’s faces, they rekindle a kindred love and are fun.”

Here’s just a few from OutsideHow that are easily adaptable to a videotaped or virtual format:

“Who’s Who” Baby Picture Contest

Talent Show

Eating Contest

Tug of War

Selfie Hot Potato

Need more great ideas for family activities?  Check out or take a look at this thorough list of 101 Family Reunion Games from Gathered Again.

This year, if you can’t share the delicious reunion food, share the recipes. You could have each family group make their signature dish, snap a photo of it with their family, and then compile them all into a cookbook. Remembering the Time can even take all those recipes, stories and photos and create an amazing keepsake recipe book that reflects your family’s unique history and tastes.  Talk about a great Christmas gift for everyone! Gotcha covered.

Summer will be over before you know it – take the opportunity to hit a home run with your family reunion!

(article updated 1/20/21)

Share this:

5 Ways Vision Boards Help You Reach Your Memoir Goals

Do you set goals for yourself, either in your personal life or for your business? If not, how do you know you’re growing or making progress? Creating a Vision Board can be a great  way to allow yourself to daydream about your memoir. What is your WHY, the reason behind why you want to share your story?

Vision boards have become a popular activity in recent years although the concept has been around a long time. Like most good things, it’s come around again for a new generation. What is it? A vision board is simply one tool that helps you visualize the themes, topics, people and places that you want to write about.  How so, you ask? Let’s explore the ways…

1. Vision boards make you focus on what’s important to you. Thinking about what story you want to share helps you to prioritize what’s important. Do you want to tell the story of your childhood? Or bring your readers along on a travel journey? Or do a whole life review? Putting a memorable photo from an important time/place in your story will inspire you to work harder and prompt your memory bank.  You’ll draw on this for inspiration and focus as you write or record your tale.

2. Visualization stimulates the creative side of your brain. Placing your vision board in sight of your desk or computer serves as a daily reminder of what you want to achieve. Take a look at it before you go to bed. It will help stimulate your subconscious, perhaps prompting ideas and recollections while you sleep and dream. With your creativity soaring, keep a notebook handy to jot down any ideas you have during the night or upon awakening. You’ll be surprised how much you start recalling.  

3. Focusing on goals makes you recognize new resources or opportunities. Visualizing the events of your story will motivate you to work towards your goal. You’ll also notice new things as you relate events and describe people and place. A new perspective on a situation or a relationship can be eye-opening. Writing memoir is as much about the process and journey as the end result. This is why it’s such a wonderful, life affirming gift to give someone else.

4. Break out of your comfort zone by stating a big, scary goal. Are you stuck in a rut because you’re afraid to break out of your comfort zone? Many people who long to write their story are overwhelmed by the quantity of material, photos, and memorabilia to sort through. Acknowledging big goals – as scary and outrageous as they may be – will help you step out and take on the challenges, all in the name of reaching that goal. If your goal is to write a book, start with small wins of writing a paragraph, or the story of one event. These bite-sized chunks will give you lots of practice and build your confidence and skill in sharing your story. They will also bring additional clarity and focus as you start to transfer memories from your heart and head to paper or oral recording. Before you know it you’ll have a written a chapter, then two and three.

5. Seeing a big goal forces you out of the daydream and into action. Nothing happens without some action on your part. Vision boards are not magic tricks; they are instead a tool that spurs us into action! Visualize your story, add to your vision board using your own photos, pictures cut from magazines, whatever appeals to you. Then, approach each day with action steps which will lead you toward your goal.

In addition to these reasons, creating vision boards can be fun, relaxing and inspiring. You can even do it as a fun family activity. It’s guaranteed to spark good conversations. Need some ideas? Head over to Pinterest and follow Remembering the Time to take a look at some of the best curated ideas, sure to inspire your own creative thinking. This serves as our ongoing vision board and is loads of fun!

So grab some boxes of old photos, a stack of colorful magazines and start daydreaming!

Share this:

5 Ways Sharing Your Story Will Inspire You

1—Everyone loves a celebration. What better event to celebrate than the basic fact of being alive? Whether you’ve had 70 years on the planet or want to celebrate the life of your 5-year-old, it’s a great time to break out the cake and surprise your loved one with a story all their own. Celebrate the events and people that have made your life experience uniquely your own. Looking back over your life will help remind you of the victories, the accomplishments, the overcoming, the kindnesses great and small that have come together in your unique heart and soul to knit together your life. Your story matters and you are important!

2—Experience personal growth and insight. You may have had years to contemplate the why’s and wherefores’ of your life story. Now is the perfect time to consider what you’ve learned, process it, maybe even re-frame your responses in memory to help you heal and move forward in a healthy way.

Where have you struggled? How did you overcome? What would you want your children and grandchildren to know from your hard-won experience? You have a responsibility to pass it on.

The Rev. Berndt of the Good Samaritan Society says: 

“It is an incredible gift to be the recipient of someone’s legacy. It can be life transforming. However, I have also learned that the opportunity to leave a legacy isn’t something that only other people do. As I grow older, I am more and more convinced of the importance of asking myself, “What legacy from the wisdom of lifelong experience am I …sharing with others?” You see, this is the two-way blessing of legacies. 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.”

Perhaps other forces shaped your life? Do you have an immigrant story or a war-time experience, poverty or wealth, a disability or just making something precious out of the ordinary?

Science has shown that the health benefits of journaling and sharing your story are enormous

In her blog  ”Heart and Craft of Lifewriting” writer Sharon Lippincott comments on a memoir entitled Growing Old, by Swiss psychoanalyst Danielle Quinodoz:  “The book focuses on the enormous value elderly people derive from reviewing their memories and attaining an integrated overview of their lives, …People who are able to view their lives in this meaningful way experience more joy in living…They tend to approach aging more actively, retaining curiosity and involvement with life and the people around them….”

3—Pass along a lifetime of learned wisdom and life skills. Whether it’s your approach to living on a budget, handling life events, recovering from tragedy, the importance of your faith or simply your best tips for leading the good life, your family needs to know this. Think of the many articles (share link) where elders have been interviewed about what they’ve learned over their life, those in your circle of influence crave this same information.

Think of the inspiration others have poured into your life and how you’ve been able to pay it forward to future generations. Connect the past and the present and be inspired to do good!

4—Share your family’s origin story. Where did you come from? How did you get to where you are now? What traditions, customs, food and wisdom were Handed down by your ancestors? Mentoring, life skills, carpentry, music, jewelry making, craftsmanship, farming and ranching, your life experience and family history is uniquely your own.

5—We are inspired by photographs of people place and events. Dig out those boxes of family pics and put provenance with them. Just the process of asking questions from family members about events and people depicted will unearth a great number of stories you probably haven’t even heard yet. Or will add details to those long familiar events.

Preserve your family’s memories of important family stories. Each photo can be used to prompt the story behind it, what was going on in the world, the people’s lives in the picture. What happened before and after? The stories behind the faces in the photos are precious. It might even illuminate world events, think of collections of pioneer letters that let us know what life was like on a wagon train or collections of WWII letters. Take a look at this example, Dear Sis…WWII Letters:

“…letters were written by ordinary young men who answered the call to duty and honor to protect their country and their families. Compiled into a narrative, the letters give a snapshot of life and events both on the war front and at home.” 

Your life story is a gift from you to the future, from your generation to the next one. It may be one of the most important things you share with those who come after you. Leave a legacy, a life legacy.

Remember, not only is your story a gift, each day of life is also, unwrap daily!

Let me know if you need help sharing your story, I’d love to visit with you!


Share this:

Surprisingly Creative Writing About Outstanding Objects

Hello fellow memoir writers! Today’s inspiration is all about objects. We often hang onto things because of the emotions or memories they trigger. The object becomes an important touchstone that takes you back to a place and time important in your life. Read on for a fun, easy way to draw out the memories in your favorite things (and a mysterious surprise discovered in an old bookshop):

Pretend you’ve never been in your house before. Now, take a walk through with new eyes, notice the items you’ve collected. Maybe they’re lovingly displayed in a place of honor, or maybe they’re gathering dust, but you just can’t bear to throw them out. Why? Perhaps it’s a box of childhood mementoes stuffed in the top of a closet or a collection of poems you wrote as a teenager.

Pick up the objects, handle them, notice the lines, the color the texture. What memories are triggered?

Did you inherit this item from a relative? Tell the story, talk about your relationship with them and the day you received this special thing. Maybe it’s an item from your childhood or something one of your children made for you. Is it a book that has impacted you greatly or a piece of art that evokes time and place in a special way? Perhaps it’s a record you and your sweetheart danced to that brings back a flood of memories.

Whatever it is, you’ll know it by the emotions and memories that sneak, tramp, dance or cartwheel into your mind. Ask yourself questions as if you’ve never seen this object and you’re telling your best friend all about it. Again, no editing, write down everything that comes to mind:

  • Where did you get it—example, did you bring it back from a trip?
  • When did you get it—was it on that first date with someone special?
  • Who were you with – maybe your grandparents took you fishing?
  • How long have you had it—since your children were young? Maybe you acquired that special rock on camping trip with your dad when you were 5?

Describe it thoroughly using each of the five senses:

Sight – describe what you see as if you’ve never laid eyes on the object before. Now, describe it again with the eyes of your heart, what else is there

Taste—does it have a taste, or is it associated with something that does, example, a coveted rolling pin used by your grandmother to make wonderful pies and biscuits over the generations

Hearing– does it make a noise? An old harmonica, dented and scarred with use, a seashell from an ocean trip that stayed in your memory for years

Touch– is it smooth, rough, flat or bumpy, does it have a warmth or coldness to it. Describe everything you can about the way it feels example-an old saddle passed down, the slight cracking and wear marks from use, does it bring back to mind a horse or pony that was a special part of your childhood?

Smell – take that same saddle above, can you smell the oiled leather, the saddle soap, maybe you can remember the fresh smell of pasture or the heat on the desert in the cool of an evening’s ride.,

The object could be associated with life, loss, silly or serious. Many people save recipes and baseballs, dog leashes and photographs of all sorts. I have a red leather-bound book that belonged to my great grandfather. The title is Ken Saddles Up, with a 1945 copyright. I imagine him sitting in his beat-up old armchair, stacks of books at his side, reading this children’s book to one of his grandkids by dim lantern light. This is a treasured time of rest and escape after a hard day working in the diary barns of his Willamette, Oregon farm. Did this start the seeds of love of education, horses and curiosity about the world in his offspring? I like to think it probably did.

Oh, and the rest of the story? It’s serendipitous, a little sad, and downright cool:

That little red book was signed by my great grandfather. On the same page is a penciled price of $4.50. I found it at my favorite local secondhand bookstore while browsing one day. The book had been in my grandmother’s collection in Corvallis, OR. When she passed away my father brought many items home and shared mementoes with his children. Somehow, this book ended up in an overwhelming collection of books that was eventually taken to the bookstore for resale. It was missed, but meant to be and I was delighted, thankful, and a bit overwhelmed when I found it.

May your years be sprinkled with the occasional bit of whimsy and full of rich memories.


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: 2877 Willow Creek Lane, Las Cruces, NM, 88007

Phone: 575-323-1048