Post by Virginia Allain: Next week, I’m teaching a series of classes on memoir writing. Here’s some of the advice I’ll give the participants:
Trigger Your Memories with Old Photos
Get out your old photos to serve as memory joggers in writing your memoir. Look at them, really look at them. Probably you’ve seen these photos dozens or even a hundred times. This time you will look beyond the surface.
The technique to extract the maximum amount of information can include making lists of things you see in a photo. Here would be my list: dark car, gravel driveway, light colored house with a porch, 4 curly-haired girls in shorts/pedal pushers.
The next step would be to use those clues to set the time. In this case, by estimating the ages of my sisters, remembering the time I got glasses, and when we lived in town, gives me the likely date.
An Analysis of the Photo Shown Above
In this line-up, I see myself and three of my sisters. I’m guessing it is around 1960 before our youngest sister was born. The house must be the one on Carr Street where we lived when I was in 4th and 5th grade. We are barefooted, so it must be summer and we are probably at home. If we were visiting someone, we’d have shoes on.
I could ask a car buff about the car, as I don’t recognize it. Perhaps it belonged to a visitor and the occasion of their visit is the reason we’re getting photographed.
I can’t deduce much from our expressions. We’re looking into the sun and that’s causing us to look down or squint or close our eyes. No sunglasses back in those days.
I’m surprised by all the curly hair. Maybe Mom had tried out some home perm kits. I started wearing glasses in the 4th grade. I wonder when the two younger girls got their first glasses?
Look at those tans! That’s from lots of playing outside. I’m the pale one, probably because I spent hours reading.
This was a rental house and too small for our family of 7, soon to be 8. After that, we moved to the country, to a 4-bedroom farmhouse.
Making Use of Your Discoveries about the Pictures
OK, I’ve deduced quite a bit from the first photo. I’ve written a sentence or two about the elements in the photo. The next step would be to rearrange those into more of a narrative describing my feelings about that time in my life.
After examining the details, tune into the feelings evoked by the picture. How happy were you at that time in life? How did the siblings get along? Tell about a typical day at that time in your life.
Sometimes Christmas sneaks up on me and the Christmas cards aren’t sent in a timely manner. Maybe it has happened to you too. Perhaps you’ve been ill or had to work extra hours at your job or had some other disruption to your plans.
Here are some ways to deal with tardy holiday cards.
Just posting “Merry Christmas” on your Facebook status is a little lame. It’s better to compose a reasonable Christmas letter that’s newsy and send it using Facebook’s message capability.
There are plenty of sites that have cards to send to your e-mail recipients who aren’t on Facebook. These cards are quite colorful, often sing and dance and let you add a thoughtful message. One company for free Christmas e-cards is Blue Mountain Cards. To find more, just Google “free Christmas ecards.”
Hopefully, you have unlimited long distance calling on your phone because this is the way you can reach all your offline friends. It takes time to ring them all up and have a good chat, but that’s what happens when you don’t work on your Christmas cards earlier.
Mail Out Christmas Cards After Christmas
This is an alternative to the first three suggestions. Send the cards with a “Happy New Year” or “Best wishes for a great year” penned in after the Christmas greeting. Try to get them in the mail right after Christmas.
Skip Christmas Cards This Year
You can get away with this if you are right in the middle of moving, getting a divorce, have been sick, or are coping with a major family upheaval. Next year, send your cards early and explain what happened.
(Originally posted on List My 5 by Virginia Allain)
Some years back, I added a miniature gazebo to my Christmas decorations. Although I don’t set up a Christmas village, I couldn’t resist getting the piece. Every year, I bring it out and add the fir trees and the tiny fawns carved of wood.
This small replica honors my brother, as it evokes memories of the gazebo that he built for the city of El Dorado. There are actually two gazebos. He was an accomplished cabinet maker who custom built cabinetry for homes in the area and some businesses too.
After his stroke, he had to give up that work. I noticed once that he was watching a home remodeling program on House and Garden TV, so I’m guessing he misses his tools and projects. He can take pride in his handiwork being on display in these gazebos.
I imagine the city decorates them with lights for the Christmas season. I’d love to see a photo of that.
Cindy Ross, our guest blogger for today, is Gail and Clyde Martin’s fourth child. She shares her Christmas memories with us.
“As a child, it seemed to take forever for Christmas to arrive. I remember the anticipation while waiting to open gifts early that morning.
It could be very cold if Dad hadn’t stoked the fire in the potbelly stove. So, if you arrived downstairs too soon, you’d be scampering back to that warm bed.
Our stockings hung along the staircase and you could almost peek into them from up above. We were lucky to get an apple or orange, ribbon candy, or a candy cane.
I loved the wooden bowl Mom placed on the table holding the English walnuts, cashew, Brazil nuts, almonds, pecans, and peanuts to be cracked open. The slender metal picks in the center of the bowl helped get the nutmeat out of the shell.
For fun, we played Fox and Geese in the snow, but only after we finished feeding and watering the rabbits and chickens.”
Comment from her older sister, Ginger: “Thanks, Sis, for writing this. I’d forgotten where we hung the stockings and about the bowl of nuts. Now, I remember how exotic those nuts seemed and how difficult it was to crack the hard shell of those Brazil nuts. There were hazelnuts too. Christmas was the only time we had those.
I hadn’t forgotten how cold it could be in that uninsulated Kansas farmhouse. We would huddle around that woodstove in the living room while hustling into our clothes. Upstairs there would be ice on the inside of the bedroom windows.”
Gail Lee Martin wrote this article for the eHow site telling how to make old light bulbs into Santa decorations. If you have some dead light bulbs, don’t toss them out.
How to Make a Santa Ornament from a Light Bulb
Here is a craft my daughter, Shannon, and I started making back in 1993. We took them to the Wesley employee’s craft fair. They were so cute and were very popular.
It’s a fun way to recycle burned out light bulbs. Here’s how to make them.
Things You’ll Need:
- light bulbs
- white spray paint
- various paint and a brush
- or colored markers
- glue gun
- gold string
- canned snow (the kind sprayed on windows)
- We took burned out light bulbs and turned them into Christmas tree ornaments. Start saving up bulbs now and ask your friends and family to save theirs for you too. You can also buy new ones if you can’t wait for them to burn out.
- I spray painted the bulb white like Santa’s beard. Even though the bulb is whitish already, the spray paint gives a more even surface and color. It also hides the dark spot that burned out bulbs sometimes have.
- Then I used a brush to hand-paint the screw top with red paint for his hat.
- I hot-glued a gold string to the top to hang it with. Heavy gold thread or gold wire is fine for this or you can use red yarn.
- Using canned snow, I put a rim around the red cap and some on the top for a ball.
- Shannon painted and sketched on the expressive faces and added a realistic mustache with a swipe of white paint. Leftover paint-by-number paint or a kid’s paint kit works for this. You can draw on the eyes and details with permanent markers also.
Tips & Warnings
This makes recycling fun.
Check the Santa clip art site listed below in resources for ideas for Santa’s face. You can make jolly Santas, roly-poly Santas, stylized Santas, classic Santas, etc.
I was afraid the carrot cookie recipe was lost. I’d found one recipe labeled Helen King’s carrot cookies, but I wanted Mom’s recipe. She started making these after we were all grown up. She had a batch of the tasty cookies ready when I visited one time from Baltimore. They became my new favorite cookie.
It turns out that I had a copy of the recipe all along. I found it as I cleaned out my over-full, seldom used recipe box. As I tossed dubious-sounding jello recipes and any baked goods that called for Bisquick, I found the carrot cookie recipe written in Mom’s handwriting.
Gail Lee Martin’s Carrot Cookies
- 1 cup finely grated carrots
- 3/4 cup shortening or oleo
- 2 cups flour
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix the ingredients, then drop by teaspoon onto a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. (She doesn’t mention greasing the baking sheet, but I’d recommend it)
Icing for the Carrot Cookies
- powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup finely grated carrots
- orange juice
Mix these together to use as a glaze. Wait for the cookies to cool first.
What is lurking in your recipe box? Take a look to see if some heirloom recipes are there. Treat your taste buds to a trip down memory lane.