To Love What Is Ugly: Family stories

We giggled onscreen together when she told me about the ring her grandmother had left her. ”It is so ugly! And I so love it.”

My pink-haired tattooed client also knew her great grandmother, which is a little unusual.

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Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

Indeed, we picked a path through five generations of what turns out that be a kind of matriarchy: great grandma, granny, mom, herself, and her kids.  We were interrupted oh so briefly by her own handsome son. We had tea together, and we got a little choked up together at one point.

Her grandmother was an antiques dealer, and had an eye for all things glimmering, glitzy, and gold.  She’d melted down some other jewelry pieces and designed this “ugly” ring and had it made for herself.  What a badass, we agreed. Creative self-care before it was all the rage. And recycling, too!

We passed our planned hourlong interview as the stories unfolded, and finally broke session — with another interview planned for the future — when the tea took it’s inevitable course.

If you’d like to jump on a video call and hit record as we talk through YOUR generations, reach out to me at Angela@AngelaLTodd.com, or start with a great photo and bring someone else in on the call with One Special Photo.  I’d love to hear in the comments below if you have inherited an unusual item that you love. ❤

 

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Happy Galentines Day!

Happy V/Galentines Day!

In this Facebook live, I talk about Galentines Day — a new holiday on the scene.  What it is, how to celebrate it…

I share some pictures of my cousins, of my grad school “girldinner” crew, and talk about the ways that we can honor each other (and ourselves) on this new holiday.

I would love to facilitate YOUR photo-based storytelling, and have a fun and easy way to get started detailed HERE.

Three-pack purchases are now available for both the One Special Photo package (organized around a great photo of yours) and the Capturing Family Voices package (includes customized interviews aimed at your specific interests).  These make amazing gifts, and they are great, manageable, ways to begin saving YOUR family stories — inside or outside of blood lines. 🙂

PS! Did you hear my podcast interview on The Sparkle Hour about how important it is to “take control of your story” and TELL IT yourself? YOU can still listen here!

On honoring a mentor who set me on my path…

They say we die twice — once when our bodies give out, and again the last time our name is spoken aloud.

My high school English teacher was the first womakimberly-farmer-287677.jpgn I had ever heard go by the title “Ms.”  I was a high school freshman in 1979, in a small mill town in southern Maine.  Ms. Sullivan was tall, angular, smart, independent, kind of cranky, and gave no f$&ks — I loved her.

I think we all giggled about the term “Ms.” when we were arrived from Junior High.  And here I am, all these years later, remembering and writing about her.  And yes, I said her name aloud as I wrote.

Several months ago I went searching for her contact information so I could thank her for being a thought leader to me. I’ve been a marching activist for 30 years, with her to thank.  I learned that she was active in the state teachers’ union, and that she did some community service related to her love of literature. I also learned another thing.

I was too late.

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I would love to have asked her the back story about her early adoption of “Ms.”

Who do you hold in high esteem?

A mentor? Grandparent? Chill and steady Uncle Bill, who taught you to parallel park? A moms night out “colleague” who has been listening, laughing, and struggling along beside you for the last 8 years?

Want a gift of honor to commemorate a loved one and their impact on you? I have just the thing!  Gather some folks to discuss a great photo that captures your feelings.  It might be the person, the school, that old Plymouth that . Uncle Bill taught you to park.  We’ll meet online to discuss it, and I’ll add your comments to a glossy keepsake photo print. Examples and details are HERE. 

Or spend time getting to know your elders with this FREE list of 5 prompts to help the conversation flow.  It’s a great way to bond, re-bond, or hold space for someone as they remember.  If you use the questions, I’d love to know how it goes!

My grandparents’ shocking first date.

24281661_10157035223238916_2063691728_o.jpg“Once upon a time there was a farm girl — the youngest of six kids.  She was shy and thought she was ugly.  She had some very glamorous older sisters and some very rowdy older brothers. They all lived in Aroostook County, Maine.

Imagine rural Northern Maine farm country in the 1920s — all hands on deck to harvest potatoes for 6 weeks in the fall — schools closed, housewives left their homes.  Every man, woman, and child headed to the fields.

Long days were spent bent over, digging potatoes out of the earth by hand.

Generation after generation.

Paid by the barrel.

The girl did, too. For those 4 to 8 weeks, she traded her smart dresses for a black-and-red wool plaid coat, heavy pants, work boots, and gloves. Up to fourteen hours a day.  Most workers ate hearty picnic lunches in the dirt fields.  Some farms fed their workers huge hot lunches at midday.

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One day a tall dark stranger (okay, there were no strangers in the small farm town) — a tall dark older boy noticed her and asked her on a date — and she said yes!

For their first date, Percy flew her over those potato fields in a post office airplane!  According to the Smithsonian Institution web site, the US Postal Service took over air mail services from the Army in 1918. The promise of the mail drove decisions to light landing strips, push for electric beacons, and floodlight tall buildings.  If the planes couldn’t fly at night, the mail didn’t actually move any faster than by land. The airmail pilots were considered a “suicide club” and we can only imagine what Sybil might have thought of all of this!

 

PostalAirplane.jpgNobody really remembers how soon after that first date it was that they married.  They did not “live happily ever after” — nobody does!  Haha.  But they had a family of their own and a farm of their own — where Sybil fed the farmhands enormous 4-course meals at noon — and they did good works in their community. ”

This is a bedtime story I told my kids, and after its first telling, they were shocked that the story was about their own family! Thirty years ago I gave my beloved grandparents one of those “grandparent books.” They filled it out and I thanked them.  I looked it over and was delighted, then put it on a shelf.  They were both gone by the time I read the four lines about their first date, and I have so many questions!

Family history gives kids a foothold in history.  Kids see their role within a larger context, and learn the value of their actions and contributions. It humanizes the players, too, to trace the path to the present.  The gruff terse one, and the doting, perhaps nervous one.  Our kids won’t know about any of that, its importance to us, or what their elders were like as people — unless we tell them.

Pass your stories along with FREE prompts to talk about over dinner.  And consider capturing your family history.  It is SO MUCH FUN to get together to discuss a photo like the potato-picking one above! Once the conversation starts, everyone remembers more.  It’s all here:  http://bit.ly/2h3aYmX

Path to the Present: what’s your story?

I worked in academic archives for almost 20 years, and I know how the documents of history are collected. Mostly, “those four guys over there” decide that their work is important and they put it in boxes and give it to someone.

And those documents are how we write history.

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What historical stories are YOU keeping under wraps?   Photo by Dương Trần Quốc on Unsplash

If I sat down with you, and you told me about your history, and we talked about what the women in your family did, and you told me about how your mom made it through domestic violence, how your family came to this country via a different route than Ellis Island, what happened when there were no heirs to carry on the family name, or what the transition from farm to city was like in your family, that story would be unique. And it should be saved.

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Each of my kids came to work with me a couple of days a week in the archives. Yes, that is a typewriter in the background…

There are lots of paths to the present.  And the only stories we can tell about our present and how we got here are the stories that “those four guys over there” decided that they wanted to save.  You can certainly find musicians, or women, or even lefties that collaborate on growing a collection of papers. But the documents of history are only collected by, and saved at, large institutions — when someone does make an effort.  Until now.

What I think is important is this: telling the stories of the real history, and what’s really happening on the ground — for two reasons. First, because it helps families feel grounded and kids feel confident to know their family narrative (stories of hardships, and the coping skills that got everyone through, are particularly strengthening). Second, because the story of history will never be thick enough.

To get started passing your family history to your own kids, I have a handy guide to get you started.  Dinnertime Family History gives you five prompts to talk your way through the school week about your generation and your parents’.  Get your free guide OVER HERE and start tonight!

If you’d like to do more, I can walk you through it, researching and sculpting the perfect interview questions, conducting the online meeting/s with up to four attendees from anywhere with online access, and ensuring that you have multiple, accessible copies of your results.  You’ll know more about your family and yourself, and you’ll have another tool in your parenting toolbox, too!  Read more about it here.  Reach out to have a conversation about Capturing Oral Family History: Angela@AngelaLTodd.com

Our Kids Will Always Need Therapy. And It’s Okay.

My stern great-grandmother came from Copenhagen around 1890 and married a stern Welsh potato farmer in Northern Maine.  Katinka assimilated totally; they spoke no Danish, celebrated no Danish holidays, ate no Danish foods.  Children were to be seen and not heard.  My potato farmer grandfather Percival (her son), was equally stern.

He mostly repeated the family pattern, and almost finished his job doing so before big cultural changes came.  His children were born at the end of World War II and were young adults in the 60s.  The peaceniks and free love revolution didn’t quite infiltrate rural Northern Maine.  Percy’s kids (my dad and uncles) had farm exemptions from service in Viet Nam; they worked HARD.  They planted, tended, and picked potatoes. They may not have worn beads and protested, but they played HARD. They rigged their cars’ windshield washers to dispense moonshine into their glove boxes and started families earlier than planned.  Ahem.

They really failed at being seen and not heard. Gloriously.  Their kids, my cousins and I, were not expected to be seen and not heard.  We went on family camping trips and had big raucous Thanksgivings.  But still, we were not invited to speak. I’ve had to learn, as a person, to speak up — and unlearn, as a parent, speaki17105275_10156068423693916_1637972395_nng for or over my kids.

Big cultural changes happen quickly now, generation after generation.  Baby boomers, peaceniks, yuppies, gen Xers, generation Y, millenials — technology, gender roles, economic opportunities, the changing shape of the family.

What we learned about parenting, from our parents, is dated.  Historical trends in parenting have changed quickly, and in the last decades they have multiplied, too.  There’s not just Doctor Spock followed by Dr. Sears.  There’s permissive, free range, attachment, mindful, and authoritarian parenting.  And there’s more: religious (conservative or reform?), Adlerian, gender-neutral, tiger moms, geek dads… you see.

Best practices seem to change with the release of each new study.  New digital technologies mean we fly by the seats of our pants.  There’s no way a parent can stay ahead of it all.

But one thing remains steady — when kids, teens, and young adults misbehave, parents are first in the line of blame — l17101738_10156067620438916_1980051568_n.jpgike we operate in a vacuum.  The stakes feel high, and they are. Parents, kids, schools, and the culture at large see parents as responsible for their children’s behavior.

We simply cannot do it “right.” With high stakes, shifting criteria, changing terrain (new technologies, family shape), how could we?  How can we do those “best practices” about to be announced?  I always joked that my kids will need therapy because the standards of parenting change every decade.

But it’s true.

So when we need to course-correct in the funnerfamily, we get an outside contractor  —  a professional to survey the situation, advise, and help make new supports.   Honestly, sometimes we are late to the game.  Like we should have called in a pro six months ago!  haha.  But better late than never.

Often when I tell someone we are seeing a therapist, they respond with pity or sadness or some version of “this too shall pass.”  I think that’s the wrong attitude, frankly.  “The family” and its day to day decision making, traditions, and comforts, just doesn’t move at the same speed, or with the same agenda, as “the culture” with its press toward novelty and innovation.  Bridging the gap requires outside resources!  Haha…

My kids need an orthodontist, I’m not going to even think about doing THAT myself.  I don’t want to be in charge of EVERYTHING!  Our kids need experts.  I’d like to see our kids  invited to speak, and I for one need someone to paint some lines on the road so that I can stay in between “seen and not heard” and “the kids are in charge.”  We will always need professionals — they help me invite my kids to speak.  Our kids will always need therapy… and it’s okay.

I would love to hear about something you wish you had learned earlier, or could unlearn.  Or that your parents had unlearned.  Comment here, and let’s move forward together.  ❤

I am in my happy place

Old Orchard Beach Pier

Click this image of Old Orchard Beach to purchase it from Elizabeth Thomas Photo.

Tantalizing.  So much is about the smells of lake and ocean.

Pine, wet earth, the salty air, coconut sunscreen, high tide, my childhood home, my other childhood home.

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Click this image to buy it from CEJPhotography.

We left Running Mate behind, packing and cleaning without us under foot. The Things miss him, achingly so!

The 13-hour drive was doubled by jumping jacks breaks — my response to their bickering. But all that falls away in the cold waters of home.

When others talk and write of ethnicity, this is what I reflect on.  New England.  My family is a broad mix of bloodlines. We identify with family and regional histories.  And I want the Things to have that platform, too.

So we are a heartbreaking 3/4 of us as the Things hear stories about how Silas was followed home by a cat, how Pa drove a school bus for an integrated school near a military base in Maine while he was in college, how Big Nanny would let her children (my mother) cook potatoes right on the cast iron stove on cold Saturday afternoons.  The one-room schoolhouse, the potato harvest that shut down the schools each fall so all could work, our potato inspector and grave-digger grandfathers.

Family stories are proven and re-proven to strengthen families, an Emory University reconfirmed this recently.  Huffington Post published a “DYK: Do you know” questionnaire, and it was fun to go through it as a family.  But the facts in the questions, the article points out, are not what’s relevant.  It’s the time spent relaying them.  You can follow our Maine travels and our neverending attempt to move to Maine, over on Facebook.  Stop by and tell me if your kids know your family stories, and what they are!

Pittsburgh in the spring

Whether you live here or travel here, Pittsburgh is more fun than you think!  For a straightforward list of the biggest kid sites, look at Kidsburgh, which includes the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the Carnegie Science Center (which has a great Sports Works facility included in admission where your kids can bungee jump, ride a virtual roller coaster, and lots of other physical goodies), and the Children’s Museum of Pittsbrgh.  But there are fun quirky things to do with your kids around every corner.  Free fun can be had at any number of Pittsburgh’s awesome playgrounds.  My family’s favorite is the Blue Slide Park in Squirrel Hill, but there are tons of them, mostly in our two biggest parks, Schenley and Frick, both of which are also laced with walking and hiking trails.

Just Ducky Tours on the South Side feature old WWII vehicles that drive directly from land into water and your kid might even get to drive it;  D’s Dogs in Regent square has a range of vegetarian and meat dogs, and one of the city’s largest beer selections.  Then walk on down to the Forbes & Braddock Playground and digest for a while.  On the other side of town in Lawrenceville, find the Kickback Pinball Cafe, a great soup-and-sandwich spot for tweens, teens, and parents interested in pinball!  Downtown in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District you will find Toonseum, a comic book museum whose current exhibit covers women comic artists.  Their hours are abbreviated, so check their site.  If your kids are builders or fans of Legos and K’nex, see what’s going on at Snapology in the South Hills.  Their new Discovery Center offers classes and camps themed with Star Wars, Minecraft, stop-gap animation, and more.  They also offer open play for a fee and a new mini-fig trading station, just bring one to trade!  If you’re here in May, the International Children’s Festival offers a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities and performances.

On your way into town from the East, stop at the Big Mac Museum, commemorating the famous sandwich’s inventor from right here in greater Pittsburgh.  Take a picture beside the giant Big Mac inside the restaurant and enjoy the old-time atmosphere.  And if you like quirky and kitsch, check out this list of things to do at Quirky Travel Guy’s site!

If you have history buffs, Pittsburgh offers sites related to the French and British fighting at Fort Pitt and it’s predecessor, Fort Duquesne, during America’s early formation, or for labor historians, find the cemetery where victims of the 1892 Homestead Strike are buried and ride the Duquesne Incline as workers of the past did every day.  Pittsburgh is a big sports and sports history place, as well.  So come and explore a city praised for its sports, its industrial heritage, and its renewal as a city of the future, focused on education and medicine.