If you're having trouble trying to come up with the perfect gift for your children this year, I have an idea. Write or record an Ethical Will. What's that? A letter (written or spoken) to your loved one ... telling him or her all the things you would say if you knew this were your last chance. Because it is. That's the point. You're saying it now, before it's too late, and so that when the time comes, your child will have something tangible from you to take comfort in.
A woman I've known for several years told me the other day that she has written several letters to each of her daughters (ages 8 and 10). Why? Because she'll never forget the day she came home after her mother passed away suddenly ... and she spent hours ransacking the house looking for something her mother left for her. A letter? A note?
"She must have left me something," she thought. Even now, almost 20 years later, she throws her hands into the air as she says, "There was nothing. I had nothing."
So every couple of years, she writes her daughters a letter. "I tell them all the things I want them to know about how they've impacted my life, how much I love them, and what I want them to carry with them as they walk through each stage of their life," she said.
And these letters don't just sit in a drawer, they are part of their everyday lives. Bringing them closer ... in the moment. "The girls are always asking me to read them aloud," she laughed. "Even at the dinner table."
We all have grandiose ideas of placing handmade gifts under the tree that would make Martha Stewart proud. But instead of knitting a scarf or feeling guilty because you didn't, why not give your son or daughter something heart-made, instead? Take an hour to sit down with a pen and paper and create something that will be treasured today and for years to come.
Yes, it's true. We're a "disposable society." But we regularly dispose of more than blenders, jeans, and laptops.
We clean out our "Sent" email files and neglect to print out our digital photos. Most of our personal information sits on our hard drives or on servers of password-protected internet companies, says Professor John Naughton in a recent article
What we know about our great-grandparents and their parents is primarily gathered through old letters, photos, and diaries. But those tangible written communications from the past to the future have been replaced by the less-tangible — emails, Facebook posts, and blog entries.
What are we doing to ensure that our family's digital library is protected … when the computer crashes or we're no longer around to keep up our Facebook page. Naughton
writes about the importance of keeping a printed record of our online communications — or using a service like Entrustet
to do the digital archiving for you. He says that we may be "carelessly or unwittingly — consigning the records of our lives to the digital shredder
Whether or not you'll be gathering around the Thanksgiving dinner table with your extended family this year, you can honor and celebrate your family history and heritage by including some old family recipes in your holiday meal plan.
Grandma's special stuffing. Aunt Mary's squash casserole. Uncle Fred's gravy.
What comes to mind when you remember Thanksgiving dinners from your childhood? A particular dessert? A yummy appetizer?
My grandmother always made the softest, flakiest homemade rolls; we would eat them by the handful. My mouth waters just thinking about them.
A few years ago, I hunted down the recipe and made them for Thanksgiving dinner. They weren't quite as good as hers. I probably didn't use enough butter. But nevertheless, my grandmother would have been delighted to know that I cared enough to try and recreate her Thanksgiving masterpiece.
Those rolls will continue to be a holiday tradition in our home — and maybe one-day in our children's homes.
Once you've identified the favorite family dishes that you'd like to revive, you may need to dig around a bit to find the recipes. In fact, some of them may have never been written down to begin with.
So many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers carried around entire recipe books in their heads, having learned each dish from grandmothers of their own. But I bet that if you call around to enough aunts, sisters, and cousins — you'll be able to pull together most of the ingredients. (And fill in the blanks through an online search.)
But preserving and passing on this core part of your family history will be well worth the time and effort it might take. Future generations of your family will thank you.
In most families, the dining room table is where we connect - sharing stories, laughter, and food. Well-loved recipes connect us to the generations of our family that preceded us. Even today, certain family members are known and remembered for special dishes that they contribute to the family feast - Aunt Edna's maple walnut pie, Grandma Hazel's chicken dumplings, or Uncle Joe's barbecue ribs.
A wonderful, unique way to preserve a special piece of your family history is to create a family recipe book of cherished dishes, old and new. And I can't think of a better time to begin a project like this than during the "family gathering" months of summer.
Before your next family get-together, send out word for everyone to come with a favorite recipe (or two or three) in hand. Although you could also give family members the option of emailing the recipes to you, chances are that your elderly loved ones will prefer the handwritten approach.
And there's something special about a handwritten recipe, even one pulled from a well-loved recipe box. Just photocopy and return to owner. Your family recipe book is practically complete! A simple three-ring binder or colorful file folder is a no-fuss, affordable option. If you'd like to dress it up a bit, consider adding photos and contacting a local printer to discuss more sophisticated printing and binding options.
The possibilities really are endless, and so is the fun! What are you waiting for? It's time to get cooking!
If you’re like most 21st-century photo hounds, your computer’s hard drive is packed to capacity and your basement is filled with yellowing photo albums and boxes of old family snapshots. It’s the modern-day dilemma of a camera-loving culture.
But the photos – especially the ones that have been passed down to you from your parents and grandparents – are an important part of your family history. They each carry with them a story – a story of people, places, and moments.
Most families have been taking and collecting photographs for the past 100 years or so. But with the arrival of digital technology, we’re really on a roll now! The number of photos that our great-grandparents may have taken over the course of a lifetime, we stockpile in a year. Many of us don’t even bother developing our pictures any more, let alone taking the time to properly label them.
So how do we get a handle on this ever-growing photographic chronology of our lives – and the lives of those we hold dear?
Thankfully, technology has come to the rescue.
Fairly inexpensive software packages are available to help you get a grip on your photo collection. From photo editing and sharing tools to advanced labeling and organizational features, it’s amazing what some of these products can do!
Here are a couple of links worth checking out:
What can you do to ensure that those precious family keepsakes stand the test of time? Photographs, letters, and other paper documents face a number of known enemies: light, heat, humidity, acids in papers, plastics, adhesives, pollutants, and pests. But with a little know-how, you can do your part to ensure that these pieces of your personal and family history are preserved for decades to come. Here are a few ideas:
- Store important family documents in acid-free folders or an acid-free box in a temperature- and humidity-stable part of the house (that means no attics or basements)!
- Limit light exposure. If you’d like to display an item, look for a picture frame with UV filtration.
- Replace the cardboard backing on framed photos with archival acid- and lignin-free paper or board.
- Refrain from using adhesives to mount photos in a frame. Instead, use photo corners, adhesive mounts (where the adhesive doesn't touch the art), or even corners clipped from an acid-free envelope.
- Use window mats and spacers to keep framed artifacts, including photos, from touching the glass of the frame. Archival acid- and lignin-free conservation matt board is ideal for preservation purposes.
- Protect aging photos and documents from deterioration by placing them between two sheets of polyester film. If you use plastic, make sure it’s PVC-free. And never laminate your documents.
- Line cedar chests, if they hold family treasures, with acid-free paper, or wrap heirlooms in a cotton sheet. Heirlooms should never come into direct contact with the wood.
- Never store silver (or your gun and lead bullet collection) in an oak cabinet.
- Label the backs of photos using a dull, No. 2 pencil.
Sources: Jewel Feldman of ReviveArchive, Photo Restoration; The National Archives Web site.