A Gift of Treasured Memories

Old Letters, Family Memories and Other Memorabilia

Often people receive “fun” gifts, frivolous gifts or the most recent gimmick for a birthday or holiday, but in a few weeks, it is forgotten. Give a gift that lasts a lifetime by sharing your family memories with the next generation.

A Gift They Will Cherish and Pass Down in the Family

This can be in the form of a scrapbook, a self-published book, a videotaped interview, a pretty box filled with old letters, or a framed essay. Memories that can be hung on the wall, viewed on the television or browsed in book form make a gift that will be cherished from one generation to the next. Recording these memories or saving old letters are truly a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Goofy Gifts – Who Will Remember Them?

People spend money on gag gifts. Sometimes they buy the annoying singing Christmas moose because they can’t figure out what to give. Sometimes it’s the garish Christmas socks with Santa Claus all over them. Instead of wasting your money on these, give a timeless gift of family memories.

Stop with the goofy gifts. Read on down the page to find some really meaningful gifts that will last for a lifetime.

Save old letters and family memories

Save old letters and family memories for the next generation to enjoy. (Graphic from Pixabay)

Ideas for Meaningful Gifts

    • Save Letters in Archival Sleeves in a Binder – Gather all the letters saved from the person and put them in order by the dates. Put the letters (oldest ones first) in the archival sleeves in the binder. The recipient will have hours of enjoyment re-reading their own letters from years gone by. It forms a journal or diary of their life. This also works to put older letters like a great-grandparent’s letters into a binder to give their descendant. What a treasure!
    • Turn Letters, Memories or a Blog into a Self-Published Book – using Blurb.com. It’s delightful to see how much this means to this woman to receive her blog made into a book.

  • Make a Video to Share Family Memories – Get out the video camera (or your cellphone) and get grandma or grandpa talking about their memories.
  • Give a Family Member a Journal – to start recording their childhood memories.
  • Create Your Own Heritage Scrapbook – with family history, copies of old photos and other memorabilia.

Supplies for the Projects

Scrapbook Photo Album Vintage Leather Memory Book 60 Pages Refillable Black Paper for Christmas Gifts Valentine's Day Wedding BirthdayScrapbook Photo Album Vintage Leather Memory Book 60 Pages Refillable Black Paper for Christmas Gifts Valentine’s Day Wedding BirthdayView DetailsAvery 72611 Heavy-Duty Plastic Sleeves, Letter size, Archival safeAvery 72611 Heavy-Duty Plastic Sleeves, Letter size, Archival safeView DetailsAvery Products - Avery - Secure Side-Load Sheet Protectors,  Archival safe, fits standard 3-ring binders.Avery Products – Avery – Secure Side-Load Sheet Protectors, Archival safe, fits standard 3-ring binders.View DetailsScrapbook Storytelling: Save Family Stories and Memories With Photos, Journaling and Your Own CreativityScrapbook Storytelling: Save Family Stories and Memories With Photos, Journaling and Your Own CreativityView DetailsThe Oral History Workshop: Collect and Celebrate the Life Stories of Your Family and FriendsThe Oral History Workshop: Collect and Celebrate the Life Stories of Your Family and FriendsView DetailsStep-by-Step Guide: Make a Heritage ScrapbookStep-by-Step Guide: Make a Heritage ScrapbookView DetailsK&Company Heritage Words Sticker MedleyK&Company Heritage Words Sticker MedleyView DetailsTouching Tomorrow: How to Interview Your Loved Ones to Capture a Lifetime of Memories on Video or AudioTouching Tomorrow: How to Interview Your Loved Ones to Capture a Lifetime of Memories on Video or AudioView DetailsHow to Create a Video Family History: The Complete Guide to Interviewing and Taping Your Family's Stories & MemoriesHow to Create a Video Family History: The Complete Guide to Interviewing and Taping Your Family’s Stories & MemoriesView DetailsBlue Embossed Dragonfly Faux Leather Journal - LinedBlue Embossed Dragonfly Faux Leather Journal – LinedView Details

(Article previously published on Squidoo by Virginia Allain)

Comments and Suggestions From Friends

Suzy – “I am working on a Heritage Album now. I regret not having asked important questions when my family was alive. You’ve given some great tips that sure would have made my life easier if I would have known then what I know now.”

Susanna – “I have my great-grandmother’s photo album and, as you can imagine, I treasure it. The next person to have it will be my granddaughter.”

My suggestion for Susanna, “That is a precious family heirloom. I’d recommend scanning all the photos into the computer (may have to use a portable scanner if it is fragile). Then the photos can be shared online with more family members. They also are of historical significance, I imagine.”

Cathy – “Every Christmas I give my kids a photo album filled with pictures taken that year. Since I get them made into an actual book, there’s no way for them to take out a picture and lose it. It’s a wonderful way to preserve memories.”

Willa – “Brilliant idea. Family history once lost is lost for good. Having been in the framing industry I know how valuable a well-documented photo is because a generation or two later no one will know who they are. This is a great way to document family.”

Five Ways to Entertain Visiting Children

If you don’t have children in the home, then you are unlikely to have a stash of toys ready when a child visits. Here are some ways to keep a visiting child happy without investing in expensive toys and games.

  • Let Them Build Things

    Get out anything you have that lends itself to stacking. This could be the corks that you’re saving for a craft project or scraps of wood from the workbench. Children love arranging these into patterns and trying to build a tower.

    Gail Lee Martin with 2 granddaughters

    Gail Lee Martin with 2 granddaughters.

  • Make a Tent With Chairs and a Blanket

    Children love playing in hidey-holes. Let them arrange a sheet or blanket over some chairs and play inside the tent. Watch out with very young children that they don’t pull a chair over.

  • Bubble Blowing

    Get a bottle of this with the wand at the dollar store. It’s easy to store and will provide hours of fun for a child. Actually, adults enjoy these as well.
    You can also find recipes to make your own bubble blowing solution.

  • Start Them Drawing

    All you need is paper, even scrap paper, and a pencil. Colored pencils add to the fun, but aren’t absolutely necessary. Sit with the child and suggest things to draw and admire their creations.

  • Take a Nature Walk

    Make a list of things they might see on a walk in your area (mushroom, squirrel, a bug, a “y” shaped stick). As you walk along, they can search for the things on the list like a scavenger hunt. Give them a little reward for finding a certain number of things. It could be a gold star or a cookie, something simple.

    Gail Martin and granddaughters

    Gail Lee Martin with two granddaughters in their firemen hats.


Final Thoughts

Remember that children crave your time and attention. Don’t just park them in front of the television so the adults can talk. Spending time with you and their parents is important to the child’s development.

(post by Virginia Allain – previously published on List My Five)

Missiles in the Wheat Fields

(post by Gail’s daughter, Virginia)

Travel Back in Time

Back in the early sixties, I attended a 2-room country school in south-central Kansas. We would see the military convoy going by while we were outside playing Red Rover and baseball at recess. We often paused our games to wave at the soldiers in their Army vehicles.

It wasn’t wartime, but America and the Soviet Union were engaged in a Cold War. As kids, we didn’t pay much attention to the news of Khrushchev, or the arms build-up. We lived in the country, belonged to 4-H, attended church, and the tensions of governments seemed very distant.

We saw jeeps like this heading for the missile silo in the 1960s

We saw jeeps like this heading for the missile silo in the 1960s (photo from Pixabay).

There we were, in the middle of Kansas, surrounded by wheat fields. The reason for the soldiers driving by? There was an underground missile silo out there in the middle of nowhere. It was 6625 miles from where we were to Moscow.

Little did we know that the very presence of that missile silo made our rural county a target if actual war did break out.

Four_Martin_Girls 1960s Kansas

The four Martin girls in the early 1960s.

Learn More About the Missile Silos

I was curious to see what had happened to those after the Cold War ended. Here are some examples.

One was made into an AirBnB. Another was blown up by a rancher after it was abandoned by the government. Some were converted into condos for those wanting a retreat in case of nuclear war.

I found one article that said, “In Kansas, the government constructed 12 Atlas F sites and nine Atlas E sites. The Atlas F sites – deep sites compared to Atlas E sites – cost about $14 million to $18 million each.” Read more about the missile sites. These sites were on high alert during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Apparently, the Atlas sites were all decommissioned by 1965.

New Uses for Old Mason Jars

Repurpose New or Vintage Canning Jars

Mason jars or canning jars have dozens of uses far beyond the basic job of storing preserved foods for the winter. Of course, they still do the job if you want to can your beets or carrots from the garden. I’ve gathered together here some ideas to upcycle or get new uses from those Ball or Mason canning jars.

Gail Lee Martin collected old canning jars and displayed them on shelves above the sink in her kitchen. I have some other suggestions to show off or make useful those vintage jars. One of my nieces used the jars filled with paper flowers to decorate the tables at her wedding.

mason jar table decoration wedding paper flowers

Diana made the paper roses to place in the canning jars that she borrowed from her Grandmother Gail.

Party or Table Decor Ideas with Mason Jars
  • Use them to hold silverware on the buffet table.
  • For a wedding, place jars on each table and fill them with wildflowers.
  • Put a pump style lid on 2 jars for a BBQ and put ketchup or mustard in them.
sunflower-jar pixabay

When eating outside, decorate your patio table with a canning jar filled with sunflowers.

Since you’re visiting this page, I’m guessing that you already have some Mason jars. They may be the more common clear canning jars or the vintage green or blue ones.

With these tops, you can put your empty canning jars to work for many purposes.

Drink, Pour, Store! Wide Mouth Mason Jar Flip Cap Lid with Airtight, Leak-Proof Seal and Innovative Flip CapDrink, Pour, Store! Wide Mouth Mason Jar Flip Cap Lid with Airtight, Leak-Proof Seal and Innovative Flip CapView DetailsMason Jar Soap Dispenser Lids - For all Regular Mouth Canning JarsMason Jar Soap Dispenser Lids – For all Regular Mouth Canning JarsView DetailsMason Jar Shaker Lids - Shake Cocktails or Your Best Dry Rub - Mix Spices, Dredge Flour, Sugar & More - Fits Any Regular Mouth Canning JarMason Jar Shaker Lids – Shake Cocktails or Your Best Dry Rub – Mix Spices, Dredge Flour, Sugar & More – Fits Any Regular Mouth Canning JarView DetailsChalk Tops - Reusable Chalkboard Lids for Mason Jars - 8 Pack - Wide MouthChalk Tops – Reusable Chalkboard Lids for Mason Jars – 8 Pack – Wide MouthView DetailsMasontops Bean Screen Plastic Mason Jar Sprouting Lids for Wide Mouth Mason Jars – Grow Bean Sprouts, Alfalfa, Salad Sprouts and MoreMason tops Bean Screen Sprouting Lids  – Grow Bean Sprouts, Alfalfa, Salad Sprouts and MoreView DetailsMason Bottle Silicone Straw TopsMason Bottle Silicone Straw TopsView Details

The green plastic lids from parmesan cheese containers fit perfectly on a canning jar too. With that, you can store any food that you want to shake out or use the jar for storing craft beads or glitter.

Uses for Newer Canning Jars

For some of the craft projects below, you’ll want to use newer canning jars instead of making permanent alterations to an antique jar.


Get out your paints and give a jar a cute pumpkin face. Put a battery-powered votive candle inside for a light.

Make Frosted Jar Lanterns – With these video instructions

You can make one of these. Look how easy it is. I really like video tutorials. Guess I’m a visual learner.

Mason Jar filled with sand for a bookend

Gail Martin filled several of her vintage canning jars with sand. They made great bookends for her cookbooks.

Haunted House in Chelsea, Kansas

manka house card
The old farmhouse in Kansas where the mysterious footsteps were heard night after night. (photo provided by Monte Manka)

Spooky Memories of a Kansas Farmhouse

Do you have memories of something that frightened you as a child? Maybe footsteps on the stairs after you’ve gone to bed? I’m intrigued by octogenarian Monte Manka who taps into his childhood memories from the 1930s for his poems. He grew up in Chelsea, Kansas in the same county where Gail Martin lived later in life. Chelsea is gone now, hidden under the water of the El Dorado Reservoir.

Here’s his account of something that really scared him as a child. The house his family lived in showed signs of being haunted. I’ve also added some memories his younger sister had of that same house. The house is gone now, so was it really haunted or ???

Read his poem describing the spooky events and also the other evidence presented. See what you think.

As for me, I’m sure glad I didn’t have to climb those stairs each night and lie awake listening to the strange sounds.

Who or What Made the Footsteps on the Stairs Late at Night?

haunted manka meme

Those “Spooky” Farmhouse Stairs

A poem by an octogenarian, Monte Manka about his childhood memories

The stairway in that farmhouse

That led up to the second floor

Meant a way to reach my bedroom

Nothing more.

Newel posts, balusters, banisters

Landing, risers, and treads

I used them daily

When heading for my upstairs bed.

As I grew older

I often wondered who

Engineered this marvel

Such beautiful workmanship, too.

That old railing and Newel Post

Were well hand-worn

Solid walnut wood

Built long before I was born.

If I wanted a midnight snack

Down these stairs, I could not sneak

The pressure on each riser

Let out a telltale squeak.

Many times

As I lay in bed

I pulled the covers

Tight over my head

Because in the stillness of the night

That old stairway would creak

From the bottom step to the top

You’d be scared to speak.

Besides, there was no such thing

As Goblins and Ghosts

Looking to do me harm, I said to myself

As those creaky sounds grew close.

I kept telling myself

While shivering in my bed

I was afraid to fall asleep

Afraid I’d wake up dead.

Thank goodness for that Sandman

He saved my life many a night

By putting me to sleep

And keeping me free from fright.

Mrs manka and farm house

Photos of the farmhouse and of Monte’s mother (in the light colored dress). Photos provided by Monte.

An Odd Incident

Remembered by Monte Manka

One night while we were sitting by the pot-bellied stove in the living room, keeping warm, suddenly a muffled noise and the house began to fill with smoke.

Dad finally got it under control. One of the bricks was missing on the chimney on the top and that brick fell down the chimney and clogged up the draft. Dad and the hired man had to take the stovepipe apart and remove the brick and all was well–

Funny no wind that night, no earthquake ????????????? Monte

old stove

A drawing by Karen Martin showing the black wood stove similar to one in the Manka house.

Another Person’s Experience in That House – Monte’s Sister

“Something came up those stairs every night at precisely the same time, around 10:00 or 10:30 I don’t remember which. The footsteps were clear and distinct from the bottom of the stairs to the top.

I am not the only one in the family that heard that either. Ray commented on that very thing. I thought it was just a kid thing and now I know that it wasn’t.

There were other things that went on in that house as well. That house was a haunted house when I was living in it.

Cordially, Carol”

Another Haunted Place in Kansas

Learn about another haunted place in Kansas – YouTube video.

The Manka House Eventually Burned to the Ground


fire destroyed wayne manka farm house

The Wayne Manka farmhouse after the fire.

In His 90s Now, Monte Manka Lives in Retirement on the West Coast

Monte Manka

October Memory Prompts

October Memories
Fall is here and do you remember what you enjoyed doing at this time of year? Fall has one of those in-between weather, not too hot and not too cold.

pumpkin carving expert

An expert carver works on a pumpkin sculpture at a fall festival.

Let’s write about our first daylight saving times and how it affected your family’s life. World Series baseball coming up and football season is taking over. High school and college football memories need to be recorded. Not just the players but the homecoming, bonfire rallies, letter jackets and the audience in the bleachers.

Witches and ghosts are showing up in my neighborhood already. Do you remember Halloween fun, tricks, and costumes back in the days when you were trick or treat age? Have you ever been tricked? Or had your decorations stolen?

Burlap scarecrow for the garden

A rustic scarecrow made of burlap bags.

Columbus Day comes on the 8th this year. Have you ever done something special to celebrate this holiday? What was the largest event you ever attended or your parents attended.

Christopher Columbus statue in Savannah, Georgia

Christopher Columbus statue in Savannah, Georgia

Do you remember “the Big Band” era? Who was your favorite? Duke Ellington, Jimmy Dorsey, and Woody Herman were a few. What was your favorite movie as a child? The girls will probably say, Shirley Temple. My kids and I remember Bing Crosby and Bob Hope plus all the westerns. Have you met a famous person?


(this is part of a series of writing prompts that Gail Lee Martin created for the Our Echo website)


September Memory Prompts

These are ideas that Gail Lee Martin shared on the Our Echo website back in 2007. She hoped they would inspire people to write about their childhood days.

September Memories
I recently read about a restored World War II P-38 named Glacier Girl being featured at the Oshkosh Air Show in Wisconsin in July and this jogged my memory of using food stamps and gathering scrap metal during WWII. We did without a lot of things because they were rationed, such as car tires, gasoline, sugar even meat. What are your memories of things during WWII?


Scrap metal and rubber collected during WWII for the war effort.

I also remember when we moved to town and had to buy oleo. It looked like lard until you put this small yellow pill into the oleo and blended it all together. Still didn’t taste like butter. Have I jogged your memories yet?

What kind of magazines do you remember your parents & grandparents having around the house? Maybe Good Housekeeping, Red Book, Country Gentleman, or an Almanac. Did you ever order anything from the ads in the magazines or order from Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Wards catalogs? Or other types of catalogs.

Then did we start having home parties like Tupperware, Avon, to sell things to our friends? Those were fun and they still are except so many women have jobs outside the home that you can find only a few that have the time come.

I see they have brought the Bobble Head dolls back. Every young person old enough to drive had some kind of those bobbleheads on the dashboard of their cars, mostly dogs and other animals. This was just before WWII.

I remember when Farm Auctions were a place to go to see your friends and find something you just couldn’t do without. Of course, they were no fun if it was your family that was selling out. Did you ever go to auctions with your Dad or Granddad?

Romantic ruffles are back again. My mother put ruffles on my dresses and blouses in the 1930s and again for my five girls in the late forties and early fifties. She even put them on her aprons.

Ginger Martin in a ruffled dress - 1950s

Ginger Martin in a ruffled dress – 1950s. Probably made by her grandmother, Ruth McGhee.

School started in our area this past week and school days should jog your memories of how you dressed, or carried lunch or ate at school. My kids each had a different lunch box decorated with their choice of popular characters on the sides. Did you? Let’s see how many different school memories we can come up with.