Scrappy Saturday: Preserve Your Blizzard Memories

As I write this post on Friday night, I recall a mention on the news that today, every state in the U.S. will have snow on the ground. I have my doubts about Hawaii, but I know here in Maryland that’s certainly the case.

I took tons of pictures during the snow storms we’ve had here over the past week. I also took some time out today to write up my memories of the past eight days or so.

The recent storms have been record-setting and won’t soon be forgotten. Many years from now, we’ll be reminiscing about the power outages, sledding, shoveling and cozy fires. Take some time to record your memories before the details slip away.

I’ll be including my photos and write-up as part of my 365 Project. You probably have dozens of pictures on your camera or laptop right now. Take some time to get them into a scrapbook soon and include notes about what you did during the recent storm(s). What did you eat? Did you lose power? How did you cope? Years from now, you’ll get a kick out of re-reading your notes and seeing the photos. You’ll be glad you took the time to preserve these snowy memories.

Here are some ideas:

Use Creative Memories’ 8×8 Winter Wonderfland Picfolio Quick Kit to display your printed photos quickly. This all-in-one package includes the album, paper and embellishments you’ll need to tell your story about the Blizzard(s) of 2010.

Digital scrapbookers might like Creative Memories’ Cozy Winters Digital Kit paper and embellishments for their digital pages. Download all you need straight to your computer.

Commemorate the historic snowfall with a mug, poster, t-shirt or page print using CM’s Digital Center* and your own photos.

* Help a girl out and use CM ID 65148777 if prompted for a consultant ID ;)

What I Did During the Blizzards of 2010, Part I

As those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know, I was stranded at the home of some friends of mine for eight days during this month’s two major snow storms. We lost power several times, including one three-day stint. Despite it all, we managed to stay warm, well-fed and sane and I’m extraordinarily grateful for their hospitality in a less-than-ideal situation for all involved.

After posting a photo of the aftermath of the first snowstorm earlier this week, a fellow genea-blogger, Bill Smith, commented:

“This is an important story for your own family history that you are making everyday. Five, ten, twenty years from now, you and your family will talk about it, and want to remember details. Be sure to write them down!”

How right he was! And so today I took the time to write everything about my experiences over the past eight days. Here’s Part 1:

[Backstory: I've known the family with whom I stayed during the blizzards for more than 20 years. I lived with them and was their son's nanny after I graduated high school. They dubbed me their "foster daughter" back when I was a teenager. I visit them often, especially on nights when I need to stay late for events near D.C. so that I can avoid the long drive back to the Eastern Shore when I'm tired. Such was the case on Thursday, Feb. 4]

THURSDAY
I arrived at my friends’ house at about 10 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 4, after working late that day. I did not sleep well the night before and had negotiated to spend the night so I wouldn’t have to drive home while sleepy. I was due back in College Park for work at 7:30 a.m. and had planned to stay at my friends’ place on Friday night anyhow so I could attend a workshop in DC. I don’t know how I found the energy, but I stayed up with them until about midnight.

FRIDAY
I awoke early on Friday morning to hear that the College Park campus was not going to open, in anticipation of that day’s storm. I went back to sleep and awoke again at 9 a.m. to see the first flakes falling and learned that my Saturday workshop also had been cancelled.

I made the decision at that point to stay at my friends’ house for the duration of the storm. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of months — we had Xmas presents to exchange along with catching up to do in general. The idea of being snowed in with them for a couple of days sounded fun. I had no idea what was really in store weather-wise.

That day, we watched the snow fall, played on our computers and got ready to settle in for a couple of days until we could dig out. My friends’ daughter, Kara, had one of her friends over for part of the day. Kara begged to be able to spend the storm at her friend’s house, but her mom, Sherri, wisely insisted on having both of her kids stay home. She wanted to know they were safe and desired “family time.” This would become a running joke.

Sherri and I took their dog Louie for a long walk around the neighborhood in the snow late in the afternoon. We saw two deer and luckily Louie didn’t try to bolt after them.

We ate frozen pizzas baked in the oven for dinner and then watched TV together and opened Christmas presents. It was nice and cozy.

SATURDAY
All seemed to be going well when we awoke the next morning. Several inches of snow had fallen overnight. At 11 a.m., as Sherri started a load of laundry and I was settled in to check email, the power went out. This is a common occurrence in their neighborhood (incidentally, the same neighborhood where I grew up). There are many, many trees with dangling limbs and overhead power lines that are very susceptible.

We all moved into their living room, which provided plenty of light thanks to a huge picture window onto their front yard. I dubbed the occasion “Extreme Family Time” in response to Kara’s complaints about being stuck in a house without power while her friends still had lights and heat. I updated my Facebook status with news about the power outage and received many comments from friends hoping the power was restored soon. This was not to be.

As the house began to cool without the heat running, the gas fireplace in the living room was turned on. I powered down my laptop to save its battery and grabbed a book, settling in on a loveseat in the living room.

Sherri tried to call PEPCO, to alert them to the outage, but their phone system was so overrun, she only heard an automated message stating their mailbox was full and they couldn’t accommodate any more messages. Not good.

I periodically checked my Blackberry for emails as I read chapters in my book. Many other friends in the area reported being without power. What did we do before we could access the Internet on our phones? I shudder to think about it.

The snow was very deep already in our neighborhood and venturing somewhere with power wasn’t really an option. The kids begged to go outside and play in the snow but Sherri wasn’t having it while the storm continued. The snow was very heavy at times and was already weighing down many tree branches around the house. Their half-feral indoor-outdoor cat was going stir crazy and was not allowed outside either, leaving our legs and the furniture in peril from his claws.

As it became clear that power would not be restored very soon, we started to get ready for the dark. When we needed to move around the house, we used tap lights or an LED flashlight to see. Most of us tried to flick the light switch as we entered the kitchen or the bathroom, out of force of habit.

The food in the refrigerator was quickly starting to warm up so we moved what we could to their unheated garage. We buried the frozen food in the snow on the back deck. The grill out back was uncovered and my friend’s husband Paul cooked burgers and hot dogs on the grill for dinner. We finished off a bottle of wine (Merlot) that had been opened the night before and ate ice cream for dessert.

We gathered together the family’s sleeping bags. By 8 p.m., we were in bed — there was simply nothing to do once the light outside waned. I was on the loveseat, Kara was on the floor in front of the fireplace and Sherri was on the couch. Their son Kyle insisted on sleeping in his bed at the other end of the house. Paul slept in the basement, which was still kind of warm, being mostly underground. In the middle of the night, Kyle came out to the living room where it was warmer.

(to be continued)

2-13-2010: Part II now available.

2-14-2010: Part III now available.

2-15-2010: Part IV now available.

52 Weeks to a Better Genealogy, Challenge #3

I’m a wee bit late for WeTree’s Week 3 challenge: “Assess yourself! You’re great at researching everyone else’s history, but how much of your own have you recorded? Do an assessment of your personal records and timeline events to ensure your own life is as well-documented as that of your ancestors. If you have a genealogy blog, write about the status of your own research and steps you may take to fill gaps and document your own life.”

I jumped into my family’s genealogy about 5 years ago, whilst assembling a scrapbook about my father’s life. But I really do need to do a better job of organizing my personal documents, photos and other stuff.

The good news is that there is plenty of stuff to organize. One of the saddest things that a genealogist faces is a lack of artifacts and sources to work with. Not so with my life! I was quite the packrat in my childhood. Sure, I’ve purged a lot over the past decade or so, but there’s still plenty left to document my life thus far.

I’m slowly starting to take apart the old magnetic and other albums that store my childhood photos. These I’m organizing into photo-safe scrapbooks from Creative Memories. Some will be traditional scrapbooks and some will be digital (using scans of photos). Others are more like traditional photo albums (you slip the photos into individual sleeves rather than laying them out on 12×12 or 8×8 pages). This latter option can be put together much faster, but journaling boxes and other scrapbooking materials can also be incorporated to tell stories and add fun touches to the photo pages.

I still have items like my childhood medical records, my elementary school ephemera, my high school and college newspaper clippings and more. These will have to be stored carefully as many of the items are very fragile. Luckily, Creative Memories has many options to help me with this endeavor as well.

This organization and preservation process doesn’t happen overnight, but the results will be well-worth it years from now when my personal history is still in good shape. Some might see this type of project as a chore, but I enjoy stirring up old memories as I go through old photo albums and create new ones.

Still not convinced you want to take on a project like preserving your own history? Then I’m here to help you. Drop me a line!

Scrappy Saturday: Go Digital with CM’s Digi Challenges

I’m going to try a new blogging theme–Scrappy Saturday–to let you all know what’s out there for those interested in either digital or traditional scrapbooking. This week, my focus is getting into digital scrapbooking by participating in various online challenges being run by Creative Memories.

What you’ll need:

* try it before you buy it by downloading a free version first!

You can find out about ongoing Digi Challenges by following the CM team on Facebook. Check out their Events tab for the current challenges.

I’m participating in the 365 Project: I take at least one photo everyday and then create a one- or two-page spread at the end of the week. At the end of the year, I’ll have all of the highlights of 2010 ready to publish as a Storybook.

If that sounds daunting, there are plent of mini challenges you can participate in to get the feel for digital scrapbooking. These challenges are a great way to get to know the software and the different capabilities that are there for designing your own pages and using existing designs.

My response to Digi Challenge #9

I recently completed Digi Challenge #9. A layout was provided and all I needed was to select two of my photos to include. I got to pick 4 different papers and 3 embellishments to complement the photos. Then, I needed to fill in one journaling box and I was done. It’s fun to see how others responded to the challenge as well.

If you’ve been thinking about trying digital scrapbooking, but don’t know where to start, try out one of these challenges and see where it takes you. Digital scrapbooking is fast and easy. You can more easily share the results of your digital creations with far-flung friends and relatives than you can with a traditional scrapbook.

One extra benefit to using CM’s digital scrapbooking software is that you create archived versions of your photos and designs with their system almost without having to think about it. By regularly backing up your CM files, you’ll ensure your memories are safe for years to come.

If you have questions about CM’s digital scrapbooking products, please drop me a note!

Wordy Wednesday: Genealogy Road Trip

As mentioned in this past weekend’s SNGF and yesterday’s Tombstone Tuesday post, my sister and I visited Elizabethton, Tenn., in the state’s northeast corner, during the holidays. Elizabethton is where my great-grandparents William E. HAYES and Della M. CROW raised my maternal grandmother and her siblings. The last time we were in Elizabethton, I was six years old. I have many memories of that trip and I was excited to revisit my great-grandmother’s home (since sold to a distant relation).

After meeting up with our great-uncle, Ben Hayes, he drove us to the old house on Poplar Branch Road. It was nothing like I remembered. First of all, everything seemed a lot smaller — of course, I was small myself the last time I was there. A creek passes through the front yard. Where once there was a wooden bridge (see below), there is now an asphalt walkway. We had always visited in the summer months, when everything was hot, green and thriving. When we visited last week, it was cold, gloomy and barren.

Sadly, the change in season is not the only reason the property seemed so different. It has fallen into disrepair. It desperately needs a new coat of paint and there was an accumulation of junk and vehicles in the back yard. The front porch, on which I remember playing in the shade during my visits to Grandma Hayes’ house, is blocked with a long piece of corrugated metal. The stone steps leading up to the porch appear to be crumbling. The attic window above the porch is busted.

Here is a photo of what the house looked like last week:

And here is photo taken of the house back in the 1980s:

I’m really sad to see the changes time and neglect have wrought on the property because I do have several fond memories from our visits there. I can still smell the aromas of bacon grease, green beans and biscuits that seemed to be ever-present in Grandma Hayes’ kitchen.

Grandma Grace, Me & (Great) Grandma Hayes (1981)

Back when my mom was working in miniatures, she created two tiny room boxes that were replicas of how Grandma Hayes’ kitchen looked, once upon a time. One is pictured below.

Despite the dilapidated state of the house, I was still glad to revisit Elizabethton and especially to catch up with our Uncle Ben. He drove us all over Carter County in search of good BBQ for lunch and filled us in on the history of the area. He drove us into the older section of downtown and showed us a preserved covered bridge and two of the town’s war memorials, including one where he’d purchased bricks to commemorate the service of some of our family members.

I still have more genealogical work to do in that area — I’d like to find the farm originally owned by William Hayes’ parents and also their grave sites. I’m also still trying to confirm the identities of William’s grandparents.

Luckily the FGS 2010 conference is in August in Knoxville, so I intend to turn that into a genealogy trip too.

SNGF: The Best 2009 Genealogy Moment

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a chance to participate in Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. This week’s mission from Randy Seaver:

1) “What was your best Genealogy Moment during 2009?” This could be a research find, a fabulous trip, a found family treasure, etc. Your choice!

2) Tell us about it in a blog post of your own, a comment to this blog post, or a comment to the Twitter or Facebook status line for this post.

I have several moments just from this holiday season that I want to list here and all involve connecting with living family members to discover tidbits about the past. I’ll start with the most recent and work my way backward:

This past week, my sister and I drove from her home in Knoxville, Tenn., to the town of Elizabethton. There, we met up with our great-uncle Ben, whom I hadn’t seen since I was about 12 years old. He’s approaching 80 years old, but drove us all around town, stopping at the house where he grew up — my great-grandmother’s house — I plan to post pics in a separate blog post. I was six years old the last time I was there. We then drove to the cemetery where my great-grandparents are buried. Finally, we all went out for BBQ. It was great to reconnect with Uncle Ben.

Spending time with my sister this past week was fun too — it’s something we haven’t been able to do in several years due to our respective work and school schedules. She took me on the tour of downtown Knoxville, we shopped, we cooked, we ate, we drank, we watched movies, looked at photo albums and just plain ol’ reminisced. Genealogy is about family and therefore quality time with my sister definitely makes it on the list.

Before heading down to Knoxville, I spent Christmas and a couple of days after with one of my aunts. She indulged me and together we went through more than 2,000 family photos, sorting and organizing them into storage boxes. I got to see childhood pics of my mom and her sisters that I’d never seen before. We came across hilarious photos of me and my cousins. Best of all, we found the one scene that had eluded me the past couple of years as I put together scrapbooks about my mom and dad — a photo of just the two of them together. Among the hundreds of photos taken of our extended family trips to the beach, we finally came across a couple shots of them.

Thanksgiving weekend was significant in many ways for my family — my sister and I spent the holiday in Richmond, Va., with our half-brother and his wife. It was the longest amount of time we’d ever spent with them and we had a blast. Besides the wonderful experience of being able to connect with them and their daughter, we made a major genealogical discovery, which I blogged about previously — we discovered the burial locations for several relatives whose remains we feared had been lost. In addition, my sister and I got to see photos of still another half-brother who passed away many years before we were born. My half sister-in-law showed me a bedspread that my grandmother crocheted together with my half-brother’s mother. Several of us went on a slave-trail walk through much of downtown Richmond the day after Thanksgiving. And my half-brother took my sister and I to the Richmond Holocaust Museum, where we got to meet an individual whose family story is featured in an exhibit in the museum. It was a tremendous trip.

Thanks, Randy, for this SNGF prompt!

Christmas Eve

This is post #24 (last one!) in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Christmas Eve traditions have varied over the years in my family, depending on who was hosting, when we were traveling, etc.

One Christmas Eve that stands out in my mind was during my senior year of college. My sister flew to Washington, D.C., from Albuquerque and then we drove down to Norris, Tenn. (it’s near Knoxville), to see our mom. In a snow storm.

Our route took us down I-81 in Virginia — a truck route notorious for its two lanes in each direction through mountains and valleys. As I type this (on 12/19), I-81 is shut down during the current snowstorm due to a traffic accident last night. While it usually offers scenic views, the drive itself isn’t always pretty.

That particular Christmas Eve, the roads were so icy that drivers were taking each bridge one car at a time — there was no telling how your car was going to handle the road conditions. And there were a lot of bridges.

When we made it to Lexington, Va., we stopped for lunch at the Wendy’s there and then continued on our way. Two or three harrowing hours later, after many a dicey ice patch, my sister gasped. She had left her purse at the Wendy’s.

I thought about our options for a minute and said, “Carrie, I love you, but we’re not going back for that purse today.”

When we finally reached Mom’s house, 12 hours after we started the drive (it’s usually seven to eight hours from D.C. to Knoxville), my sister was able to call the Wendy’s. They had found her purse and had it stored behind the counter for when we made the drive back to D.C. a few days later.

Unfortunately, when we did make that drive and stopped by the Wendy’s, the manager with whom we had spoken was not there and the other employees couldn’t find my sister’s purse. Thankfully, she was able to fly back to Albuquerque without its contents (this was pre-2001 and I don’t think IDs were required to fly back then). The Wendy’s manager did mail the purse back to her (after taking the money needed for postage out of her wallet). Everything else seemed to still be there though.