Gifts of Memories

humpbacked trunk

I did it again—created Christmas gifts from the old things in my closet and Mother’s hump-backed trunk. I didn’t just haul out the old things and gift wrap them, but I turned them into tree ornaments accompanied with a few anecdotes of family history.

A few days before this past Christmas, my daughter asked if I still had any old dish towels made from feed sacks. The dish towels fascinated the two girls in her family. I had a few, so each of my granddaughters and granddaughters-in-law received one that I’d embroidered for my hope chest many years ago. The girls loved their dish towels. I included a note telling how we used feed sacks not only for dish towels but also for clothing (yes, I wore feed sack clothes, including unmentionables, when I was a teen).

Another gift came from my closet. My aging blue high school sweater, which I earned by lettering in speech and debate, has hung in the closet for more than sixty years. My children and grandchildren had no idea what a shy young girl I was and how I trembled so badly just giving oral book reports in English class. Afraid I wouldn’t make it through high school, I enrolled in speech and debate in an attempt to overcome the stage fright. I succeeded and earned the sweater, but after I’m gone, it would be worthless to my kids. The time had come to turn it into heirloom ornaments for them.


I decided on a circle for the design and made a paper pattern to determine if I could get enough ornaments for everyone in the family (including at least one for myself). Then I attacked the heavy fabric with my rotary cutter—and no, I didn’t cry as I made the first cut. After I had a stack of the blue knit circles, I looked in the trunk for something to add. After all, a faded blue knit circle isn’t an ornament by itself. My husband’s sister had crocheted a white tablecloth for our wedding gift over sixty years ago. Now worn out, the little crocheted medallions were the perfect centerpieces. I backed the circle with pieces from an old quilt and added Christmas ribbons. Next came the story of how I wanted that sweater so badly, but my parents didn’t have the $15 to buy it. When the day came to order sweaters, I ordered one and went home and told Mother and Dad. They weren’t angry, and some way we managed to pay for it.

My kids weren’t the only recipients of the old things from Mother’s old trunk. I found the mattress pad she made for my brother’s baby buggy almost seventy years ago. I turned it into tree-shaped ornaments for his kids and grandkids with a note telling about his birth.

Sam family ornament

I’m eleven years older than he is, and now I’m the only one who has these memories. I told how our dad chose to name his newborn son after Dad’s brother, and our mother firmly put her foot down. He wouldn’t be named after Dad’s brother unless he was named after hers, too. They compromised and named my brother after two uncles—one on Dad’s side of the family and one on Mother’s side. After my nieces and nephews thanked me for the ornaments, one niece said, “We don’t know these things unless you tell us.” A great-nephew hugged me and said, “Now I know how Pa-pa got his name.”

The old trunk isn’t empty yet, and I’m sure it will be the source for more gifts next year. While others are shopping for new things to give, my kids, grandkids, and nieces and nephews know what they’ll receive from me will be something old with bits of family history attached.



School Days Memories

100_2289[1]School Days Memories

With school back in session for the start of another year, this is a good time to think of ways to preserve school memories. Many families take that first-day-of-school picture every year, and there are special frames for displaying them. It’s a neat way to see how the child progresses from a gap-toothed kindergartner to a high school senior.

How many homes have magnets holding treasured kindergarten artwork on the refrigerator? I once heard of a mother who saved all her child’s papers in a bag. At the end of each year she stapled the bag shut and stashed it. When her children were older, they surely spent hours going through the bags and remembering. I sent six kids to school, and I didn’t need (or have the room to store) that many bags. But it is nice to keep a few drawings, certificates, etc. Although I didn’t make a scrapbook for each of my children, one would have been a good idea—divided into thirteen sections to detail their work from kindergarten through graduation. As my six read this now, I’m sure they will chide me for not having done so.

How about a time capsule? Let the kids help accumulate items throughout the school year and decide together where to bury or store the capsule. Be sure to add the “Don’t Open Until” instructions. Until when? First day of school next year? First day of high school? Graduation?

As students progress through the grades, they often have tee shirts for the activities they participate in. I’ve seen some attractive pillows and quilts made from the tee shirts. That’s much better than having them end up in the rag bag.

Another neat way to preserve a collection would be a collage in a frame. (I didn’t do this, either, but now it seems like a good idea). A first-grader’s favorite hair bows, an athlete’s medals, or the programs the student has saved from various activities. Your children may be long past school days, but you probably still have some of their mementos in the house. Why not surprise them with a collage for their birthday or Christmas?

If you have a child just starting to school, it’s a good time to make your own traditions. Whatever you do, capture the special moments with photos.

Please share your ideas for capturing those good old school days memories.

Making Memories with the Grandchildren

           Gus and Tony with Great-grandpa Campbell

When our grandchildren were small, I asked my husband for an unusual gift for my birthday. I saw an instruction kit with simple patterns to teach children to sew, and that was what I wanted.

As each child reached his or her sixth birthday, it was time for them to come to Grandma’s and learn to sew. We started with the shopping trip, for each child had to have their own scissors, pins, and pincushion. Choosing those pins and pincushion was the highlight of the trip, followed by carefully sticking each pin in the fat red cushion after we got home. Then came the first sewing project—a tote bag for holding their equipment and projects. Our grandchildren are adults now, and none of them make their own clothes. But they made many items during those growing-up years and proudly wore their shirts and skirts to school.

One granddaughter told me, “We don’t have to watch TV when we come to your house. You’re the sewing grandma.” She made memories with her other grandmother, too. “She’s the shopping grandma,” she said.

Not all grandchildren and grandparents live close enough to share fun times. But there are other ways to make memories. Record nursery rhymes and riddles for small children so they can hear your voice. I typed in an Internet search for recordable books and found them at Hallmark, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us, and other places. You can get stories to read aloud, and you can get some where you will create the story. Perhaps your grandchild’s book will be saved for the next generation, and your great-grandchildren will also hear you reading stories to them.

When I read a recordable book for our great-grandson, my husband read portions of the story, too. Then I put a photo of us in the book so Peyton could make the association of our voices and faces. Who knows? Maybe twenty years from now he will pass the book on to his children, and our great-great-grandchildren will be the ones listening to us read a story.

Another idea is to start a collection of something that interests both of you, and keep in touch about the progress. Phone calls, smart phones with photo and texting capabilities, and social media all provide ways to share and make memories. Whether you see each other often or seldom, going on an excursion together will be stored in your grandchildren’s memories. My husband’s brother and sister-in-law took each grandchild on a camping trip the year the child was ten years-old. You might opt for an afternoon of Christmas shopping or going to a movie or play. The key is to do something enjoyable together.

Make a journal for each grandchild, and they will love reading what you’ve written. As you think of something they have done, or when something reminds you of the child, write a brief entry in that child’s journal. Maybe even develop your own signature (a funny drawing of Grandma and Grandpa, or a special way to write I love you) and use it to sign off each entry. Keep the journals where the children can find them when they come to visit, or take them with you on visits to the far-away grandchildren.

What Can You Repurpose?

My husband, Bud, has made beautiful furniture in his garage workshop, but now he no longer does woodworking. Rather than sell his tools and machinery, we’re giving them to our children and grandchildren, and they are using them.

Instead of tools, our daughter Sharon had her eye on something different. “I want Daddy’s workbench,” she said.

in the shop I thought she planned to move the workbench into her basement. I was mistaken—she wanted that old wooden bench in the living room. She took it home, cleaned and sanded, and applied a finish of TimberLuxe™ to protect and bring out the beauty of the wood. Sharon with workbench Now the bench is a focal point in her log home, complete with her daddy’s wood vice still clamped to one end. in the living room What do you have waiting to be repurposed? An old eight-foot workbench won’t fit everyone’s décor, but does a door (or the doorknob), window, or even part of a wall panel carry special memories for you? Could it become a coffee table, a wall hanging, or . . . ? You supply the answer and turn your repurposed piece into something that’s uniquely yours. I have interviewed people who made lamps from automotive parts—wouldn’t that be a way to remember a special car in your life? Instead of trashing those worn-out car parts, turn them into something useful.

Do you have a drawer full of old spoons that no longer look attractive on the table? They might be made into lamps or other decorative pieces. I haven’t tried making a lamp yet, but I have the silverware.

SILVERWAREIt’s nothing special—just a few old knives, forks, and spoons that my husband brought into our marriage sixty years ago. I knew the silverware came from Colorado Springs, but I had to call on his siblings to retrieve the memory of where the family got these mismatched pieces. Bud’s brother Oren remembered going with their grandpa to the Broadmore Hotel to cut sweet clover for Grandpa’s goats. The hotel discarded things they no longer wanted, and sometimes the employees shared the cast-offs with Grandpa. Now, nearly three-quarters of a century later, those pieces are still in our kitchen.

People who are handy with a welder can make all kinds of things. When a woman in our area wanted an outdoor Christmas display, her son made one from salvaged combine parts. A man I interviewed for one of my articles used discarded automobile parts to build replicas of dinosaurs for his yard. Another man showed me the chair he made to go with the desk in his workshop. He had mounted a satellite dish on a frame and attached a John Deere seat.

We can find a new purpose for many things that have outlasted their original use. For our family, going into our daughter Sharon’s home and seeing Bud’s workbench makes us happy. If she hadn’t taken it, the workbench would likely have ended up being sold at auction one day. That would have been a shame—repurposing was the way to preserve the memories.

I Will Remember You

:I Will Remember You


Although spring arrives in March, winter hasn’t turned loose yet. Why not use one of those cozy in-the-house days to start jotting down some notes about yourself? My friend Ann Leach, who is a Life Coach, has excellent suggestions for saving memories that even your family may not know about you. Ann has given me permission to share the following from one of her recent newsletters. Ann says:

A friend posted this picture on Facebook:

newspaper article write your obit.bmp

 I could tell by her comment that she was surprised that anybody would want to attend a workshop on writing an obituary. The comments on her thread pretty much supported the disdain for such a need and activity.

But I responded and said that “this is one of the best gifts you could give your loved ones.” Do you agree? Is yours ready to go when your time comes?

When my elderly cousin died suddenly, it fell to me to clean out her cluttered home and take care of her affairs. She had never married nor did she have children. I had just gone through the process with my mom’s death the year before, so I knew what needed to happen.

The funeral home called, seeking information for her obituary. I was embarrassed that I did not know the dates of her education, nor the official names of the institutions. I wasn’t too clear on where she was born, either. I remember running frantically around her home gathering dates from diplomas on the wall and trying to piece together what had been an amazing life (she was the first female optometrist in our city and had contributed to many state association projects and programs and had traveled the world extensively).

I felt that, in my upset, I had done her a disservice. I didn’t know what she would have wanted said and what was important enough to her to be included. It was tough enough that it found me creating a tips list that I want to share with you here:

  1. Schedule an hour to sit down with a notepad and record some special times in your life. If it helps, go decade by decade and see what memories pop up.
  2. Do some math and figure out the year and your age that the above events occurred and record those too.
  3. Think about what you hope people will say about you at your funeral and yes, write that down too.
  4. Plan your memorial gift recipient. As you scan your notes, look for a common denominator like ‘I enjoyed being part of a ball team from the neighborhood kids’ games to college football’ or ‘I was always creating something like new doll clothes or writing a play for school’. This kind of information can give you clues to causes you may want to support in life and in death. Record your wishes, knowing you can change your mind at any time.
  5. Communicate. Put your notes in a file called Funeral Plan and let your family know where that file is located. Have the conversation and talk about why you feel it is important to discuss now (‘ever since we lost your grandpa I have been thinking of how to make things easier for your mom’, for example)

Your actions around this kind of funeral planning today will bring peace of mind to your loved ones years later.

© 2015 Ann Leach

Life Preservers’ director, Ann Leach, publishes In the Flow, a bi-monthly publication that supports, nudges and informs both family and professional caregivers. If you’d like FREE tips on supporting yourself and others as they ride the waves of change that grief brings,

From Pants to Potholders

From Pants to Potholders

 from back pocket

My friend Kay Rose called one winter day and told me she was making potholders, but hers weren’t just any hotpads. Kay had saved her husband’s jeans and shirts for projects to make some day, and this winter she was turning them into potholders. For each one, she used a back jeans’ pocket for one side and a square cut from a shirt for the other side.

front and back

What a wonderful way to share the memories with her children and grandchildren. My guess is these potholders won’t be used to handle many hot pots of soup. But perhaps they will—what could be sturdier to lift those pans than heavy denim? Kay said when she makes more potholders, she will be sure to put sufficient padding between the layers to prevent burned hands.

back from a shirt

Maybe you don’t have jeans to cut up and recycle, but look around for other articles of clothing than could work just as well. One friend said she needed suggestions for what to do with her mother’s dresses she had saved. A dress could yield material for several potholders. What unusual and valued gifts they would be if put in frames ready for hanging on the kitchen wall. Or instead of a frame, perhaps a set of three made from dresses and attached to a hanging cord. Be sure to include a note telling the history—who wore the dress, approximately what year, and any interesting tidbits that will make it unique for your family. If you still have a pair of Dad’s overalls and one of Mom’s dresses, why not combine the fabrics into your own special design.

Not all the memories have to come from the older generation. If you still have kids at home, stash away a favorite article of clothing when they no longer wear it. Your young son likely won’t appreciate a potholder made out of his old jeans, but it could be an unusual gift for his bride some day in the future. Most kids have a favorite shirt, dress, or jeans. Save the beloved item and turn it into a memory. If your little girl is alternately tomboy and princess, a lace-trimmed denim potholder may fit her personality. Again, remember to write the note with some history that will personalize the gift.

What wonderful memories Grandpa’s old jeans may trigger if you see them every time you open the potholder drawer. Whether they are used every day or hung on the kitchen wall, these potholders preserve memories with special meaning for your family.

Make a Family Health Portrait

Make a Family Health Portrait

The New Year is a good time to think about one of the more serious aspects of preserving family memories. The information we gather about our family’s  health now may prove invaluable to future generations—or perhaps even this generation.

I know my grandpa died from colon cancer, and my dad’s life ended with an abdominal aneurysm. My children know some of that, but I dare say the grandchildren have no idea. Unless each of us makes a record of what we know and share it, the information will be lost to future generations.

Along with knowing what illnesses affected our families, it is helpful to gather as much additional information as possible. How old were you—or your relative—when the disease occurred? If the person died, how old were they and did they die from this disease or something else?

Start jotting down what you learn in a notebook, or create a health record file on the computer. If you’d like forms ready to fill out, do an Internet search for Record of Family Health or Medical History. Several sites will open up. Some offer free forms and others have a small cost.

The Surgeon General has put together a free Family Health Portrait that you can access online at All the site does is provide the tool to put the information together; it does not retain anything. Once you’ve built your family portrait or family tree, it’s yours to do with as you wish. The form takes approximately 15-20 minutes to fill out to build what is called My Family Health Portrait. When I clicked on the link to create my form, it took quite a while to download. But once I had the form, it was easy to fill out. The website provides help if you need it, and I did need to work with the form a bit to fully understand it. After filling out the form, you can get a calculation showing your risk for specific diseases.

Whether we use one of the forms such as Family Health Portrait or make our own notes, it will be most helpful if families share the information. If I share my portrait with my siblings or cousins and they decide to make their own Family Health Portrait, it will re-index. By re-indexing, they become the central figure on their Portrait and I will become one of their “branches.”

My resolution for 2015 is to put together a record of our medical history. Preserving family memories is important, and a medical record could prove to be the most important one to preserve.

Keep Memories Alive with Pillowcase Dolls

a pillowcase doll

My mother loved to embroider, and she made beautiful pillowcases. She did many of them in delicate cutwork embroidery in a dainty satin stitch, and then she cut out the tiny open spaces with her sharp little embroidery scissors.

After Mother’s death, Dad gave me a stack of her pillowcases. I took them home and put them in an old trunk, unsure if I would ever do anything with them. I left them in the trunk for several years. Then one day in early December, I knew what to do with the pillowcases. They were perfect for passing on memories to Mother’s grandchildren. Instead of giving a pillowcase to each of my children and my nieces and nephews, I would make them into pillowcase dolls. If I hurried, I could get them done in time for Christmas.

two pillowcase dolls

            I washed the pillowcases, and then I cut and sewed. Mother, who was a perfectionist, would not have been pleased with some of the pillowcases. In her later years, she continued embroidering as long as she could, even after Alzheimer’s disease affected her mind. But some of her last stitches were long and gaudy, and sometimes she got the designs upside down and off-center. After I turned them into full-skirted dresses on the dolls, the flaws were not evident. Only the beauty of the dolls showed.

Making the dolls was not difficult, and I finished twenty-four that year in time for Christmas. Although some might think only girls would want them, Mother’s grown grandsons were just as pleased as her granddaughters to receive this special memento. Mother loved dolls and made many to sell at the Silver Dollar City tourist attraction in Branson, MO. She would be pleased to know her pillowcases are not yellowing in an old trunk but have now found their places in her grandchildrens’ homes.

pillowcase doll

To make your own dolls, do an Internet search for free pillowcase doll patterns. The dolls are easy to make. There are patterns that require sewing, which is the way I made mine. But several Internet sites give instructions for just stuffing and tying off sections for the arms and heads. To find one site with simple instructions, click here:

Adding History to the Memory Boxes


Last month I wrote about the items we put into our memory boxes–my mother’s fountain pen, my grandmother’s wedding dish, and my husband’s grandfather’s shaving brush. As I looked around the house, I found quite a collection of family heirlooms to pass on to our six children–heirlooms that we hope will be passed down through several generations.

Looseleaf binder front

The next item to go into the boxes was a loose-leaf binder, and this was where I almost got into trouble. My husband had planned the dimensions and made the boxes, and I bought the binders to fill with more family history. But we didn’t think to coordinate the measurements. The binders barely fit inside. If anyone else is thinking of making the boxes from the instructions (available from last month’s post), be sure everything you want to add will fit inside.

I got around that hurdle and assembled history pages. Here are some of the things I included:

A Family Story

A page telling about the day each child was born. There were the details that our kids might never know if we didn’t think to tell them–about our first daughter arriving on the day a perfect World Series game was pitched, and her daddy missed it because of her impending birth. Or the morning we were ready to go to the hospital for our son’s birth, and the truck battery was dead.

Family Tree

I put in family tree pages for both sides of our family, some of my published articles, and other things I hoped would interest our children. Since we have six children, I made six copies of everything. If you’re thinking of doing this, I suggest making an extra copy and keeping one for yourself.

photo page

Next came the photo pages. (This was before we used digital cameras and saved photos on the computer). I arranged black and white photos together on one page, and colored prints on another. When I had all the pages ready, I took them to a print shop to get the copies made.

Whether you make a memory box or choose some other method, it will be worth the effort you put into it. The memory boxes are probably the most treasured gifts we have given our children.

Make a Memory Box

Janet's Memory Box open100_1321Janet's memory box open

Who Has Grandma’s Wedding Dish?

When I graduated from high school, Grandma gave me a small cut-glass bowl. “This was one of our wedding gifts,” she said. “I want you to have it.”

My grandparents celebrated their fiftieth anniversary three months after my graduation, and I treasured that dish as a symbol of their lives together. I placed it safely in my “hope chest” for the home I hoped to have some day.

That day came, and my grandmother’s dish went to my new home with me. Years passed, and I became concerned about my pretty glass dish. I knew it had been my grandparents’ wedding gift, but what would become of it after I was gone? Would it be set on a table at public auction, to be sold to the highest bidder for a few dollars?

My husband and I looked around the house and saw many of our cherished possessions that would be practically worthless on an auction table. “This is Grandpa’s shaving brush,” my husband said. “I want to give it to Bill (our son).”

What about my first grade readers—those old Dick and Jane books with stories of “Run, Spot, Run? There was my mother’s fountain pen that she used in high school, and my great-grandmother’s book of Bible readings.

We wanted our family to appreciate these old things and pass them on to their children. We knew if we just handed over the books, brushes, and dishes, future generations would not always remember where they came from. Our solution was to turn them into unique Christmas gifts for our sons and daughters.

Memory Boxes

My husband likes to work with wood, so he made a beautiful handcrafted memory box for each child. The oak, cherry, and walnut boxes are about 12 by 18 inches and six inches deep.

While he made boxes, I planned what to put in them. I wandered through the house and gathered up the special things we wanted to pass on the children—my well-worn copy of Little Women, the little red coats my mother-in-law crocheted for our girls, and Grandpa’s pocketknife.  I placed them in a large cardboard box. By the time I finished, I had a note on every item with the information I knew about its history. Two or three generations from now, our descendents can look at grandmother’s dish and know it was her wedding gift in 1903.

If you would like my husband’s instructions for making memory boxes, click here Memory Box Instructions.

Next month I’ll tell about something else we included in the boxes.