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Memoir Musings, Issue #101--April issue--Mothers and Fathers!
April 15, 2008

Welcome to Memoir Musings

Welcome to Memoir Musings, your newsletter from Extraordinary Lives. Our goal is to inspire and inform you about saving life stories in books, videos, memory books or other forms of memoir.

If you enjoy the newsletter, please forward it to friends and family who might enjoy it too.

Enjoy your life story journey.

Honoring Mothers and Fathers

May and June bring special opportunities to “honor thy parents.” While we may try to do this all year in words and deeds, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day provide gentle reminders that we can also honor them with unusual and thoughtful gifts. Some suggestions:

Many grew up with mothers taking care of meal planning and preparation. One way to honor those memories is the cookbook memoir. Collect family favorite recipes and pair them with stories about events or times that each was served. Aim for lots of details—where the recipe came from, how unique ingredients were obtained, serving traditions, the way it smelled while cooking, how it tasted, and so on. Add photos of those events to help recreate the event.

Many options are available for showcasing your cookbook memoir, including scrapbooks (great for original hand-written recipe cards), shadow boxes (you can include old kitchen wares), as well as traditional books.

Hobby memoirs are another gift idea. Consider a garden journal with photos and planting records, or a photo-record of hobby train layouts or woodworking projects. For example, I documented my father-in-law’s 40-year hobby of building a 1/6 scale, fully-functional steam-driven farm tractor. He spent 3000 hours on this project and the Smithsonian has requested it for their display. While his mechanical accomplishment is extraordinary, what our family loves about the movie is what it reveals about his personality and his recollection of life on the family farm.

Concentrating on just one slice of life, such as a hobby or cooking, seems to take pressure off those reluctant story-tellers.

Another option is using your memories and those of your siblings in a narrated slide show. Pair photos with stories told by each child. Since the material is not supplied by your parents, this gift can be a total surprise to them.

Perhaps you hope your parents will create full memoirs. Smaller-scale projects like these are a great way to show your interest in their lives and whet their appetite to share even more.

Family Corner

Everyone family seems to have a designated photographer and it will be clear through the years who it was…there will be far too few pictures of that individual in your collection. If you are the family photographer, make a conscious effort to include yourself in photos; your family will be grateful for that gift as the years go by. For those of you with young children, consider a new Mother’s Day or Father’s Day tradition: have a picture taken of you with each child on that day. The collection will form a treasured record of how much each of you has changed over the years, plus making the commitment ensures that you will be in photos at least yearly!

To add to the history, snap the photo in the same location each year-perhaps by a backyard tree, or in the family room. It adds another dimension of time passage when you see a seedling grow into a 30-foot tree or earth tone walls give way to bolder color palettes.

If your children are giving you cards, date and save them with the photos. You will have a record of physical changes in each of you and around your home, plus the evolution of handwriting and artistic endeavors. Your collection is a true time capsule!

What's New at Extraordinary Lives?

Visit and select Video Memoir Process from the Navigation Bar (or click on the link below) to learn more about the basic steps for planning and creating a life story movie.

Video Memoir Process

Monthly Memory Prompt

If you are working on your memoir or one for your parents, you will likely want to describe your parents. Many people that I interview find this a surprisingly difficult task. Perhaps parents’ images are so deeply burned into the psyche we don’t even see the need for words. If you use broad descriptions such as “beautiful” or “handsome,” your audience won’t have enough detail to form a mental picture. Try these tactics to be more descriptive:

Imagine giving their description to a police sketch artist. Consider the usual features: height, weight, hair color, eye color. Then dig deeper and recall their build, prominent features, eye depth and spacing, appearance and movement of eyebrows, size and speed of their smile, color and condition of teeth, everyday hair styles, the way they walked, how they typically sat.

Now relate these features to their state of mind. How did their appearance change when relaxing; when angry; when distressed?

Another tool is a mental visit to their closet. What clothing was worn on a typical day? What about Sundays? Was there an outfit that you link with certain events—weddings, funerals, parties. Was there an outfit that spelled trouble?

Lastly, picture your parents’ hands, as they reveal much about lifestyle. Were they stylish and smooth, or calloused from labor? Were they always knitting, whittling, or holding a book or tool?

Use such details to paint with words in your stories; then, others can picture your parents as you do.

How-To-Tip: Scanning Handwritten Documents

Handwriting is a revealing personal characteristic and deserves a place in your print or digital memoir. However, they can be tricky to scan. To scan items such as recipes, letters or signatures:

Select an original with strong contrast between ink color and paper color.

Look for documents with writing on just one side of the paper. Scan as a line art file, rather than a photo or text.

Scan in color to preserve paper color and texture.

Set higher resolution than you need in your final project (perhaps 600 dpi for print or 150 dpi for a video/web). It may help if you need to edit the file later.

If your scanner has a Levels command, test various settings to see how much contrast you can achieve between the paper and the writing. Try to set the black point on the handwriting itself.

Use the scanner software’s “marquee” to select just the portion you want. You typically set the marquee with the mouse in “click and drag” mode, drawing a rectangle to fit your document.

While you can straighten in editing software, it is best to get it right during scanning. Take the time to use the straight edges on your scanner to keep the document straight.

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