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Want to Make a Change? Share Your Life Story from the Heart!

Memoir writers and family historians typically have loads of great stories to share. On scraps of paper, partially used notebooks, journals of all shapes and sizes, napkins, envelopes. And boxes of photos. And letters. And recipes. You get the picture. One of the most common questions I’m asked is “How do I go about editing all that stuff? Where do I start?” This is often the sticking point and can become a slog through concrete without help. I’ve shared many ideas in workshops, on this blog, and with coaching clients to help you curate all that wonderful material. Take a look through the archive for inspiration.

My goal is to help you get the most out of your story and ensure you’re presenting it in a clear, enjoyable manner that showcases your unique voice.

I’ve written free blogs, given free workshops, and spoken with so many people who are convinced of the importance of sharing their story. I’ve enjoyed working lunches and many cups of coffee while encouraging people with the nuts and bolts of getting their story from their head and heart onto the page or computer screen.

However, I’ve found that sometimes readers, clients, and fellow human beings just need something more focused to get them un-stuck. They want more – specific attention to their unique story, motivation, accountability, and more one on one help to make progress with their story.  

So…I began distilling all those years of experience into a simple individual coaching program. This is designed to give you two options to jump start your memoir or family history project, making real progress toward an end goal you can be proud of. Because I believe in the innate value of life stories and experiences I developed the Life Legacy Signature Coaching Program.

The coaching comes in two flavors, 3-month and 6-month. Each is designed to support you with weekly individual meetings, phone calls, and email communication where we work directly with your story. Yes, even if it’s just in the idea stage or languishing in those boxes of material I mentioned. There is help for that!

Life Legacy Coaching is designed to provide you a practical, creative framework for learning how to gather material from your life history, how to focus, and different structuring techniques. Together we’ll enhance your story telling skills to build your memoir or that of someone else. You’ll make steady progress and receive encouraging, constructive feedback on your weekly writing goals as you refine your own unique storytelling voice.

I love to honor your life and memories by helping bring order and meaningful expression to your story. This program is only open to a limited number of clients because of the individual work we’ll do digging into your story and crafting it into a thing of beauty. 2021 promises to be a year of new opportunities as we emerge from this cloud that has been oh so hard but has also helped us focus on the love of friends and family.

Interested in talking about your project? Let’s talk story. I would love to have the opportunity to work with you and give you the tools, confidence, and encouragement to share your story. This is your opportunity to be a part of a very special small group.

What does the book journey look like? It’s not a fast process, each step is part of the ride and is vital to developing your best book. The great thing is, here’s where partnering with a coach can help you maximize your efforts and enjoy the trip. Guess what? There’s help and guidance for every step of this process. Get in touch and tell me about  your story vision and goals. You can reach me at karen@rememberingthetime.net. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Here’s your bulleted , short roadmap to your best book just FYI:

  • Collect your material, either your own writing or work with an oral historian who is skilled in conducting memoir/family history interviews
  • Decide on your basic keys – who, what , when, where, why
  • Write the stories – don’t edit yet – I know it’s hard
  • Edit your document 5 -6 times, adding sensory detail, arranging the story till it flows well, continuing to hone your theme
  • Developmental editing, either on your own or get help, professional or writing group feedback
  • Revise and correct your book as per feedback
  • Set your book manuscript aside for at least a few days so you can view it with fresh eyes in the next step
  • Review, proofread, and edit your story again – Read it aloud to yourself, work with self-editing tools like Grammarly, the Hemingway app or even just Google docs or Word spelling and grammar checks
  • Work with a copyeditor to further clean up your text – fresh eyes with professional experience will be efficient at polishing your work
  • Proofread again
  • Submit for publication if self-publishing, order a proof copy and review again, making corrections as needed
  • Market your book if for public consumption
  • Publish final manuscript
  • Celebrate your great accomplishment!
  • Market again, and again

Have another story idea? You may be hooked, have fun with it!

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What’s in a Name? Marvelous Funny Monikers

Birth, death, and taxes are inevitable, so this seems like the perfect time to focus on new life and inject a little needed humor into your day. Family history and memoir work can be rich in name mining.

Soon to be parents are up to their necks in baby name books. To prime the thought process, here are some choices you may NOT want to consider, but they’ll keep you laughing. If your grandmother or grandad sported one of these monikers my apologies in advance, I hope you’ll take this in the spirit of fun!

Check out this collection of 1918 Extinct Names that Sound Hilarious Today collected from Nameberry.com:

Can I hear it for Lurline: 58 girls  or Roswell: 45 boys ? Or how about the twins:

Dicy: 11 girls

Nicie: 11 girls

Boys named Dude: 8 boys today might be whipping around every time someone under the age of 30 calls out to a friend.

For you genealogy and family history buffs, laugh your way through the funny genealogical records at Legacy Tree.com.

In American colonial times, names often reflected qualities or characteristics that parents wanted their children to emulate, like Charity, Patience, or Virtue. Preserved was a name associated with salvation – preserved from sin, death, or destruction. However, Thomas and Mercy Fish should probably have given a little more thought to the burden their son would be forced to bear when they named him Preserved Fish.

If Mr. Preserved Fish could time travel from 1731 to today I wonder what names he might find bizarre or humorous? Portobella? Baby? Hashtag? Any name spelled backwards – just – no.

Glance through the hilarious collection of unbelievable actual names at TheBump.com. Here’s a sample:

“Apparently there’s a family at my gym with the last name Bean. They have girls who are named after different types of beans, like October, Boston and Seven. Seriously.” — shadow

Number 16 from Parentology.com’s list of 20 weirdest baby names is memorable but I’m pretty sure this gal will have to spell it out for the rest of her life.

16. Zephyrine
“Zephyr” is the ancient Greek term for the west wind. Zephyrine is a feminized version.

Both my daughter and daughter in law sport lovely derivatives of the classic name Alexandra. This is sometimes confusing when speaking in a hurry as all of us have tripped over the similar names more than once. So far, the ladies have kept a great sense of humor. In our modern age of that ever-present digital boss lady who shall remain nameless here, an entire new past time has arisen of head-whipping “What?” when someone calls “A….!” in their home. I find myself snickering a bit evilly when this happens. I grew up in the era of Karens and sat through my entire school career with at least one other like-named lass in every classroom. And now there’s a meme about us, oy!

Then, there’s the classic Johnny Cash song A Boy Named Sue. I remember singing this, loudly and badly, with my dad on road trips. Now, that’s a good memory! The song reads like a how-to manual for bad parenting but we loved Cash’s sense of humor and grit. I’d love to know how he got the idea for this song.

What funny or unusual names are hiding in your family history? I’d love to hear them with a photo of their proud owner. Share them on our social media pages on Facebook and Instagram and tell us the backstory! (Makes a great story for your memoir too)

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What’s Your Most Priceless Possession?

(Photo by Rumman Amin on Unsplash)

What is your most priceless possession? Today is the anniversary of the discovery of the largest diamond ever found. Discovered in Pretoria, South Africa in 1905, it weighed in at a whopping 1.33 pounds. That’s 3,106 carats! Take a second look at your engagement ring if you’re wearing one, it’s maybe a fraction of a carat, at most 1 carat if your spouse to be was financially well-off. Can you imagine a diamond this big?

If you’ve lived for any length of time of this planet you know that objects can be lost, stolen, or destroyed. What can’t be  lost, except by mental incapacity are your memories. These are yours, to replay, to cherish, to share, sometimes to re-bury. They are yours alone and cannot be taken from you, they are the only thing that is uniquely yours.

Back to the shiny rock. This diamond, like most precious things, was shaped and polished to bring out its beauty. It was cut into several different gems, one of which is known as the Star of Africa, or Cullinan I. The article states that the stones “…are on display in the Tower of London with Britain’s other crown jewels; the Cullinan I is mounted in the British Sovereign’s Royal Scepter, while the Cullinan II sits in the Imperial State Crown.” You can read about the discovery of this precious stone on history.com.

Take a look at your memories in a different light as if they are a precious object. Protect them, share them so their beauty and the story behind them can be known by others, especially your family. Consider this treasure that is uniquely yours. Now, imagine 116 years into the future, when your great grandchildren will be able to read a story about your life and history. I can promise you it will be more intensely relevant and interesting to them than the story of a shiny rock.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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:  https://outsidehow.com/family-reunion-games.html

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 https://howdoesshe.com/5-bonding-ideas-next-family-reunion/ 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)

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

    Phone: 575-323-1048


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