The Challenge of Downsizing

Grandma's Coffee Set and Tea Cakes

Grandma's Coffee Set and Tea Cakes

Life is full of the unexpected from good news to the not-so-good news.

These past few months have been a whirlwind as my husband and I have been going through gigantic changes. First, he learned that he would be given the opportunity to leave his company where we have been for most of our adult years. Then, we went through the agony of no prospect of no job soon. Then, a job opened up on the other side of the country—far away from the familiar and quite close to the exotic.

So, we went through the down-sizing that many other people have faced, getting rid of what was a precious treasure to us and discovered that those treasures were just junk to others, much to our surprise.

Like a long movie, so much good stuff was left on the cutting floor because the final product would not benefit another person. All those cast-offs become the out-takes we had so enjoyed at the end of the feature movie. So, too, at our house and with our lives–off with the appliances, good dishes, pictures, books, and so much more. Instead, we have less clutter and more time to for other activities, instead of dusting and caring for our stuff.

In just a short time, gone was the furniture we had used for decades, bought when we were young and full of hope for the future. After years of wear and tear, five pieces of the set are gone to the consignment store to sit and wait for someone, anyone, to pick up at a bargain. The hand-carved Old Teak Thai furniture just does not fit in with the modern, more casual world. The magnificent lighted china hutch was just so much trash for someone looking for a cheap deal. Our outdoor furniture and grill went to people who complained about the price as they carried off hundreds of dollars of materials for a tiny fraction of their original price. The list goes on and on as we rid ourselves of big and small things. Our lives are more than stuff, but sometimes we are too slow to realize that.

As I asked one of my daughters if she wanted something from her childhood, she replied that while she did not anything, she was content with the memories. That is a mature way to look at things, and for that I am proud of her. I gave those precious childhood treasures to another young family who could use those things to make their own memories. Our other daughter said she wanted the set of china from her paternal grandparents and then looked to a website to find the missing pieces. When she moves into her own apartment, she will be ready to give a party. My maternal grandmother gave large and fancy parties during the 1930’s while living in Austin, Texas. Her silver, china and fine linens are no longer part of this modern world. I sometimes wonder what we have lost with those gracious manners of a time long ago. Pleasant times are not defined by the stuff, but by the company around the table. For that I am thankful.

What about you? Have you had to downsize for yourself or for your parents? How do you decide what to keep and what to get rid of either by giving away or by selling? Life means change and downsizing is part of life. Share your thoughts with others.

Remember, when you are ready to tell your story, we are ready to help!

Remembering D-Day

An Overview of the Bedford, Virginia, memorial

Recently, I spent a pleasant spring afternoon on a Virginia hillside walking through the memorial for the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, when 160,000 Allied troops landed along the French coastline. The cool southern Virginia breeze belied the horrors of that day on a far-away beach, memorialized at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

The monument tells the story of Overlord, the original name for the invasion to free Europe from German Nazi domination. Beginning in the east and moving west, the memorial holds statues of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and an English garden, stylized a bit for the Americans, but with busts of European generals and admirals and other important military leaders. Standing under a portico at one end is General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the man under whom the whole operation was conceived and executed.

From this garden, the visitor walks up to the Gray Plaza where bronze plaques list the names of 4,413 men who died on D-Day as they came ashore. The Allied Expeditionary Forces represented the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Beyond this one sees a tableau of granite sculptures that represent the gaping opening of the ships disgorging soldiers into the Atlantic as other soldiers struggle to reach the shore as shots rain down on them, killing some while others get ashore. Finally, several soldiers scale the monument wall to the Victory Plaza and its towering arch with teh word Overlord carved into the gray granite. Finally, in the eastern-most section, pedestals under the busts of President Truman and Prime Minister Clement Attlee include a list of the changes they brought and programs they instituted that have shaped our world, even to today, seventy years later.

My family and I have lived in Richmond, Virginia for more than a decade and I often heard stories of the 34 Bedford Boys. During that assault on Omaha Beach in 1944, 19 of the young Bedford men died with four more who died in the subsequent fighting in Normandy. At the time, the town had a population of about 3,200 people, and this great loss, marked Bedford as suffering the severest loss on D-Day, proportionately, of any town in America. Blue Star mothers have children serving in the armed forces. And, Gold Star mothers have lost a child in the services. Little garden spaces remind the visitor to the memorial that flowers bloom from the ground of sorrow. Garden areas with flowering plants and benches remind the visitor that beauty grows from sorrow, a testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit. So, this memorial is built outside this little hamlet in the great Appalachian Mountains. The rural community of Bedford is just east of Roanoke, Virginia on Hwy. 460.

This Memorial Day has greater meaning for me as I realized that my freedom was bought at such a great cost. I am thankful for the men and women who are willing to fight for me to enjoy worshiping God, reading and writing as I please, doing what I believe to be right day after day.

Thank you, veterans, for fighting for me and for us Americans who sometimes forget to say thanks. And, thank you to the families who live on after their loved ones have died fighting for freedom. Such a burden is not an easy one to carry, but I am thankful for your sacrifice.

Our veterans have stories to tell us about the cost of our freedom. Let’s take time this weekend to honor those who have given their lives so we might be free. Share a story today about the never-ending struggle for freedom.

Remember when you are ready to tell your story, we are ready to help!

Our Stories Still Matter!

“No one reads the classics anymore.” “The classics were written by a lot of dead people a long time ago.”

Have you ever had such thoughts? Do you remember those high school days when you were reading “Beowulf” or “Julius Caesar”? Or, for many of us in college, we read Dante’s Inferno, which gives a perspective on living well and avoiding eternal punishment. Then, there were those from more modern literature, like Gustave Flaubert’s Madam Bovary, and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles or George Orwell’s 1984. What did we learn from all those long hours of reading tough material?

We learned about living life well, about the deep emotions that result from wise and not-so-wise decisions, and about the importance of living intentionally.

Last week, I joined about 100 people to listen to Dr. Mark Bauerlein, senior editor of First Things, winner of the Nautilus Book Award, multiple book author, and an English professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He spoke as part of The Richmond Center for Christian Study and spoke on “The Genesis of the Academic Gay Movement.” One point that stood out to me was 25 years ago, a dramatic shift occurred in the humanities as courses moved away from the traditional classics and instead moved to modern literature and authors, all with a different focus. From learning about how to live in the world where we find ourselves, the focus became changing the world where we live to improve society. Gone to a large degree are these classics where students struggled to understand the language and the development of characters in complicated situations, often of their own making. All this has been replaced with literature and academic energy with modern ideas—gender studies, women studies, gay studies, and the like.

An Unchanging Rock

Rocks don't face much change!

As a personal historian and just as a person who has lived for several decades, I understand that change always comes along—or else we would be dead, think of a rock. Change brings a future but involves a death as well, think of an acorn. Classic literature teaches us to have a depth of understanding and an empathy for people unlike ourselves, but who wrestle with our same emotions? We see how their poor or selfish decisions hurt those around them and are the seeds of their own destruction. We don’t have to make those same mistakes and suffer the disastrous consequences.

Our life stories are like those great novels. We have made all sorts of decisions–some good, some bad, and some downright disastrous. However, they all add up to who we are today. By telling our stories, we can enlighten another person’s journey, helping them make good decisions or bring relief to them in their situation. The stories of our lives are just a part of ourselves, but they are important to tell.

What do you think about the change in focus from the traditional classics to this new modern way of thinking? Is it helpful to our shared life journey? Have you thought about your life story as a great novel that brings greater understanding to the next generation? What interesting story do you have to tell today?

Remember when you are ready to tell your story, we are ready to help!

Remembering for the Both of Us through Alzheimer’s

Remembering for Both of Us

PaPa and granddaughter Tasha read a book together

When we think about our stories, we sometimes are tempted to just concentrate on the happy times, the special holidays, or those moments that we all like to commemorate, like graduations and weddings. However, as members of the human race, our stories include hard and sad times as well. As children we talked about all the happy plans we had. Do you remember the jump-rope-skipping ditty that goes something like this?

“Boy’s name” and “girl’s name”
Sitting in a tree.
First comes love,
Then comes marriage,
Then comes (girl’s name)
With a baby carriage.

That was sort of an ideal plan for life. We sang such little songs without thinking much about the details of our futures. However, sometimes those ideal stories didn’t quite work out like we had planned. Disasters of all kinds intrude: divorce, war, crime, business failures, death, and the list goes on and on. One such unplanned intruder is Alzheimer’s disease. All of us have been touched by this dreadful disease that robs our loved ones of memory, skills, and personality. No one plans for such a future, but we grow and mature through these unexpected life events.

Charlotte Wood, a Richmond-area writer, has written a children’s story that grew out of the heart-breaking experience as her beloved husband, Bill, suffered through the ravages of Alzheimer’s. She writes about the impact of their lives on their first granddaughter . We see the little girl trying to understand. The couple were retired teachers, preparing to enjoy these “golden” years together, spending time with their grandchildren and families. Bill always enjoyed puttering around the house, fixing things and making life better for his family and neighbors. That is the grandfather she knew but she is confused by the changes she sees happening as her Papa deteriorates.

This sweet story is tinged with sadness as the whole family adjusts to the changes in their beloved family member. The story Ms. Wood writes shares insights into the lessons she learned helping her husband and granddaughter adjust, reminding Tasha that PaPa still loves her, just as much as he ever did, no matter what the disease does to him. As the story progresses, we see the little girl grow in love and understanding of her beloved grandfather.

Ms. Wood said she wrote this book to help families cope with Alzheimer’s and her book indeed does fulfill that purpose. If you or someone you love is facing such a situation, check out Remembering for Both of Us. It is available from or or from And, Ms. Wood is available to speak about Alzheimer’s and the family. Contact her at

What about your story? Do you have a story to tell about a hard time in your family? Your story might help another family face the unexpected future with confidence.

Remember, we will soon have a special way to tell your stories through a little time together.

Read More »

Time gets away from us

Today, a potential client of mine died. His granddaughter really wanted to get his story in video form so she, her husband, and their yet-to-be-born children could enjoy Poppy’s wisdom and humor. Her grandfather wanted to wait until he felt stronger from the cancer ravaging his body. He was going to get started just as soon as he felt better. However, that unwelcome but that expected guest, Death, came for him suddenly last week. Now, that wisdom and humor his granddaughter so wanted to preserve are just a memory, preserved in a few photos and some letters Poppy wrote to her when she was a child.

Just reading the above paragraph breaks my heart, again. Such stories happen all the time to each us, in lots of areas. We put off doing something, especially the big tasks, until we have just a little bit more time. We want to tell our story, to add a little bit of personal history to our families or to the world. Sometimes, we are eager to get started but are interrupted and can’t seem to get started.

The family in the first paragraph are deprived of the wisdom of their ancestor. While they have the few pictures and memories, his own words already are fading in their memories. How can you keep this from being your story? What can you do to make your experience different? How do you get started? Perhaps you think no one is interested in your story.

Fancy Table Setting and Ladies

What is this celebration from April, 1960?

Here are a few lessons we can learn. Which ones do you agree with and which ones will you implement?

1. TODAY is the day to get started telling your story.
2. Your story is your unique take on life—no one has had quite the same experiences as you.
3. You have experienced life in a unique time in history—from technological advances, to changes in culture, to improvements in the health of everyone, and the list goes on and on.
4. No one knows your story better than you do.
5. Telling your story allows you to influence someone dear to you—children, grandchildren, and generations to follow.
6. And, finally, it really does get too late to tell your story.

Remember when you are gone, your stories are gone forever. No one will be able to recapture something that is not here.

What about you? Do you have more stories you want to tell to another? Perhaps no one says they want them today, but tomorrow, when your stories are gone, they will want to hear them again and again. Writing, recording, photographing your story will allow them to join you on your journey and help them see a way forward.

Soon, we will be announcing a way to help you get started telling your story in your own words through a little time together.

Read More »

Bringing Ideas to Reality

As I sit here in my lovely home, the memories of all the hard work and chaos are fading a little bit.

For years, my husband I talked about painting our house that has the original paint of about 18 years ago. When we bought the house, we inherited the colors and, frankly, poor painting job of the former owners. We knew we would do something about it someday. So, we had a professional painter come and do one room at a time across several years. Well, at this rate, it looked like we would never finish, so we decided to take the plunge and do the whole interior except for the three rooms we had already done.

We visited some big-box stores and paint stores to look at different colors of paint, but we just didn’t know where to start. After we had decided on a painting company, they sent out an interior decorator, Practical Penny, and she came with her match of colors and made our lives so much easier. Penny Jesmer of Richmond, Virginia, knows colors and interior design. After visiting with us and exploring our thinking and looking at our rooms with the furniture and furnishings, she directed us to several colors that might be possibilities. She did not push us to choose something we did not want. Instead, she helped us choose the colors that most appealed to us.

Entry Hall

New coat of paint changes a faded beige to a welcoming green in the Entry Hall

Well, today the house is finished, and we are enjoying the fruits of the professional labor of the painters and Penny. It feels like home and everything works together so well!

What does this story have to do with a Personal Historian? Do you have stories you want to tell but just can’t get seem to get started? Perhaps you have lots of ideas and have started but just can’t seem to finish. Here is where I come in to help you get started and finished with your own personal history.

A Personal Historian helps you tell your story in your unique way in a variety of ways—what best suits your style and your story. Perhaps a multimedia presentation with music, pictures, and your voice would best present your life story. Or, perhaps you are a lover of books and a chapter book is the best presentation of your story. Or, maybe you have a love of photography and are fascinated by photographs, both old and new, that are part of your life story. We can take those photos and your stories and turn it into a masterpiece of your own making. The possibilities are almost limitless.

When you are ready to get started sharing your story, we are ready to help!
Let’s get started!
Carol C. McLaren

Childhood Fun

What did you do for fun when you were a child?

Did you build a fort in the living room? Did you ride your bike as fast as you good through the neighborhood? Or, did you go picking blackberries or mulberries or wild berries? Or, did you make countless potholders with those loops on the loom?

A Favorite Childhood Craft

I saw a video on Facebook this morning that I would like to share with you. It is a sobering video for us who enjoyed a busy childhood. Of course, we expect differences in activities between the generations. This video reflects the idea that we are getting more isolated as we get more technologically connected.

Here is the link for the video from Nature Valley called Three Generations. Enjoy.

As a Personal Historian, I get to listen to people tell their story, and their childhood stories are some of their fondest memories. Of course, activities have changed through the generations, but the common factor has been activity of some kind. That activity always happened with siblings, friends, neighborhood children, pets, family, and often in multi-generational settings, like with other children, parents, or aunts and uncles.

For example, right now I am working on my father’s story. He told of growing up in Guatemala and speaking Spanish with his brother while they played with the neighborhood children. However, when their parents, the boys only spoke in English. “Speaking our street Spanish would not have been appropriate,” Daddy said. He told of building little animals from corn cobs, playing with other children in the sand.

My husband likes to tell of going with his brother to spend the weekend with his childless Aunt Nila and Uncle Bo. They would go fishing for crappie in the local lake. Uncle Bo taught him how to hook the worm and where to place his line and wait. The hours they spent together built a bond of love that lasted for decades and instilled a patience that still is an important part of my husband’s approach to solving problems. His aunt and uncle taught him how to clean the fish before Aunt Nila cooked it, served with fresh cornbread and corn on the cob from the garden.

What about you? What did you do as a child to pass these long days of summer? Add your story in the comments section below.

Pictures Create a Unique Family Story

Have you ever thought of the possibility that your old family photos would never be valuable to the Ever thought what you kept might not be meaning for someone? Check out this story about a man whose valuables were stolen from his storage shed.

The kindness of a policeman in Sheriff’s Office of Jefferson County helped get the pictures back to their rightful owner.

Now, check out what he is going to do with the pictures now. To quote from the story, “he plans to use them to share his family history with his daughter.”

And, Mr. Barlow spoke great truth about the value of our family stories: “If you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where the hell you’re going.”

Wise words for all of us. Do you have a picture of value you could use to start your own family story?

Here is one of my paternal grandfather ready to go off to fight in World War I, a war almost 100 years ago. He left a red-haired young man without much direction in life but was changed into a man of purpose after fighting in the trenches in Europe, facing death and mustard gas.

Ready for War

G. Russell Collmer off to fight in World War I

How are you preserving your family pictures? With whom will you share your stories and pictures?

When you are ready for get started, we are ready to help!

Let’s get started!
Carol C. McLaren

Enjoy Life with Senior Discounts!

Photo of Mountain Laurel along Skyline Drive, Virginia

Mountain Laurel Flowers in the Shenandoah National Park

One recent morning as I looked in the mirror, my husband mentioned some of the advantages of growing older. While he had a long list, I thought I would share two with you today. The weather is turning lovely and thoughts of the long days of summer are invading my concentration. So, I wanted to look at some reasons to celebrate growing older.

First off, movie discounts. Have you wanted to see a movie but were put off by the high price of tickets? Regal Entertainment Group offers a dollar or so off for a senior ticket. You have to be 60 years old to enjoy this discount and, naturally, some restrictions will apply (time, movies, etc.). If you are a member of AARP, you can get a small drink and a small popcorn for only $5.50 (a value of $10.75) which is a significant saving. Going to the movies just got a bit cheaper with the turn of the calendar. A discount in entertainment helps the budget a bit while you enjoy an escape from the hot summer sun in a cool movie theater. Of course, you have to find a movie you want to see but there are a lot of new movies coming out from many producers all the time. Surely something will “tickle your fancy.”

Want more information? Check out the movie tickets at

Another entertainment discount is the senior discount at the National Parks. Right after his latest birthday, my husband drove to the Shenandoah National Park to buy his Senior Pass. You see, you have to be 62 years old before you can apply for the Senior Pass. The Senior Pass costs just $20.00 for the pass and processing and is good for lifetime access to more than 2,000 recreations that are managed by five federal agencies (the Forest Service, the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, and the National Park Service). Get a pass and enjoy our beautiful American national parks.

What to learn more? Check out the Senior Pass here:

This weekend is a sober one as we remember our loved ones who fought and died to ensure our freedom. Unofficially, summer arrives as well. As this weekend turns into summer, I hope these two discounts will bring you some cool enjoyment during this hot season. Make some memories with your loved ones as you share your summer with them.

When you are ready to get started sharing your story, we are ready to help!

Let’s get started!
Carol C McLaren

Our Strange Family Photos Bring Smiles

Burney Family Pictures Pregnant Ladies

Two pregnant ladies laugh and compare

Have you ever looked through pictures you have inherited and wondered who the people are frozen for all time? Sometimes these pictures make perfect sense and sometimes we just have to come up with the stories ourselves. Family pictures become more meaningful than those random pictures we might find on the internet or the pictures at an antique store. That is somehow true even if we don’t know who is actually pictured. Why, oh why, take this picture?

This is just such a picture I found in a box I inherited from my grandfather’s farmhouse. I have little idea of who these ladies are nor of when the picture was taken. The wall in the background looks something like the side of a deteriorated house on the family farm that has long since passed from our hands. The ladies are young and seem to be not too serious.

The woman on the left a bit like my great-grandmother, the mother of my grandfather Milton Burney. Have you ever done any research on your family? I use to look up relatives and have built a family tree. Then, I have heard from far-flung relatives about other relatives who have searched my family tree where we intersect—grandparents or cousins, for example. So, if the woman on the right is my great-grandmother, her name is Linnie M. Johnson Burney. My grandfather was born January 23, 1894 when Linnie Burney was born November 29, 1870. That would have made her about 24 in this picture.

What else can we learn about the picture? It was taken with a flash which is obvious from the sharp shadow the tree casts on that wall. So, this picture was posed, not a snap shot, like we often do today.

Unexpected Poses Bring a Smile to Family Portraits

Late 19th century family portrait from the rear

A family portrait from the backside

This funny picture is a little bit hard to see because it was taken in South Texas at the end of the 19th Century. I know very little of the picture except that it is my grandmother’s family and they are all looking over a fence. What a strange what picture to take from the perspective of the backs, not faces of the family! And, perhaps, a even stranger picture to keep!

Now, What should I do with all these family pictures?

Our families are treasure troves of experiences–good and bad, happy and sad, welcome and not welcome, for example. Many of those experiences are committed to celluloid or Polaroid film to 35 mm film and now digital media. Often we just throw those pictures in boxes and hope to find the time to look at them sometime. With the many ways to keep our photos today, we no longer have to be afraid of our pile of pictures. You can send them off to a company to scan them onto a DVD so you can look through them more easily. There are both internet companies and local companies who can do this for you.

Start with the funny pictures

Funny family pictures are one of the joys of looking into your family history. We take pictures for all sorts of reasons, sometimes to commemorate a special event, like births, birthdays, weddings, funerals, even just a family reunion or picnic. Of course, taking the picture is only part of a our family photos. The more important part is organizing them and preserving them in some sort of an organized way that can be accessed quickly.

Picking out funny pictures is one place to start. Collect the funniest and put them together in a album and enjoy the chuckles as you gather around to identify the people in the pictures or remember the events itself.

This is fun picture I found in a thrift store box of old photos. Enjoy this family posing on a log on a windy spring day. Those big bows on the twin girls are coming back in style!

A windy day for a family portrait on a log.

Smile! You are a family on a log!

What funny family pictures do you have in your family boxes? Get them out, take a look, and enjoy the memories.

When you are ready to get started sharing your story, we are ready to help!

Let’s get started!
Carol C McLaren