#NoMoreStuff: 5 Steps to Conquer Thanksgiving (and Holiday) Tension

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Sales and Marketing Guy

Well, it’s that time of year again: Our 2016 #NoMoreStuff Campaign kickoff! What is the #NoMoreStuff Campaign, you ask?

Simple: Our effort to encourage people to re-think the relationship they have with the objects and things that surround them before they head out holiday shopping for things they may not really need or even truly want. Things like, I dunno, family heirlooms.

 

no more stuff, #nomorestuff

Last year, our official kickoff was #WhiteFriday (the day after Thanksgiving). This was our direct response to #BlackFriday. As part of our message, we encouraged people to stay home with family and chat about family history (with actual family!) instead of getting in hand-to-hand combat over “Little Live Pets ‘Snuggles My Dream Puppy’ Playsets.”

So, let’s fast forward to 2016.

This year, it’s safe to say Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S. will be pretty interesting for many families. Lots of important conversations to be had.

And quite honestly, I hope you all have deep, challenging interactions with friends and family because we absolutely need meaningful, authentic conversation that include lots of listening and throughful dialogue—now more than ever.

However, it can’t all be serious stuff, right? If you want or need a break—if even for a few minutes—we have a possible nonpartisan solution: focus on family history.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Eat.
  2. Clear the table.
  3. Place five (5) family heirlooms in the center of the table.
  4. Share all the information you can about each heirloom. Go around the table and join forces in this effort.
  5. Then, document these stories using our free Heirloom Registry Registration Sheet. If you want to save these stories permanently online and label each object with a unique Heirloom Registry ID number (and even take a picture of the people sitting at the table that you can attach with the online entry), purchase these at www.houstory.com.

For extra credit: take pictures of doing #NoMoreStuff-y like things and post them online using the #NoMoreStuff and #WhiteFriday hashtags. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, too.

And remember: one thing that will always bring families together, regardless of differing beliefs, values and vision is…family.

Maybe.

At least it’s worth a shot, right?

If you want to learn more about the origins of our #NoMoreStuff campaign, I invite you to check out our post from December 2012. Thanks!

 

Houstory Herd: Hestia, Goddess of Hearth and Home

In honor of Women’s History Month, we remember Hestia, the Goddess of Hearth and Home.

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Founder

This is a reprint of an article first published on the Houstory Hearth on December 12, 2012, and has become one of the most requested on our site. 

Before there was Houstory, there was Hestia. Literally.

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An early prototype of company logo — before we became Houstory.

An early prototype of company logo — before we became Houstory.

After the muse struck and we had shopped around the idea of the Home History Book with positive results, we figured the next logical step would be to give our dream company a real-life name.

In inspired fashion, Hestia came to mind.

I knew almost nothing about her at the time, but I learned that Hestia is the Greek goddess of Hearth and Home, charged with the important task of keeping the home fire stoked. Sounded like a pretty good fit for our company.

While I won’t go into the details of her birth (which like many God/Goddesses involves considerable oddness — in Hestia’s case being swallowed at birth and later regurgitated by her dear old dad), she is regarded as one of the 12 great gods of Greek mythology.

Specifically, she is goddess of domestic life. Of motherhood and child-rearing. She is the “mom goddess” – even though she never married. Curious that.

An early depiction of Hestia, Goddess of Hearth and Home

According to Wikipedia and other sources, she blesses one with domestic happiness. (Or withholds her blessing if not asked for it.) She is often thought of as the nicest goddess. As the goddess of the sacred fire of the altar, she feels comfortable in the kitchen and has a special affinity for cooks and bakers. Hestia has a keenly developed spiritual side and plays a special role in the rituals of the various gods and goddesses, always making sure that their temples are prepared and everyone is comfortable. She is a wonderful hostess.

While I’ve not seen it written down officially, I feel Hestia actually would have been very comfortable being the Goddess of the Heart. But that, of course, was a position firmly occupied by Aphrodite. So the next closest thing to the heart, she felt, was the hearth. While today we generally think of the hearth as simply part of a nicely designed fireplace, in historic times the hearth was essential. It was used for heating, cooking and cleaning. It was also the focal point for religious rituals. Both literally and symbolically, it was heart of the home.

Hestia and Aphrodite actually have an interesting relationship. Hestia rejected the marriage proposals by both Poseidon and Apollo, both much admired – and desired — “studs” at the time. She thereby rejected Aphrodite’s values and became, to some extent her Wikipedia article says, Aphrodite’s “chaste, domestic complementary, or antithesis.”

While the Goddess of the Heart and Goddess of the Hearth are both deeply loving beings, there often does seem to be some sort of inner war going on between them. Certainly their paths have been quite different.

One wonders if Hestia might not have been caught off guard at how much work it was going to be. Instead of passionately pursuing romance, lovers and adventures of the heart like Aphrodite, Hestia shouldered the heavier, more demanding job of making sure dinner was on the table, the home cleaned, the laundry done and the family and home operating smoothly. It was her energy that kept the family looking and feeling like a family.

Sandro Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus (aka Aphrodite) from the mid-1480s shows the goddess rising from a seashell.

While the work could be incredibly rewarding – phew! – it can also wear you out. As any modern day Hestia/Mom will tell you, the other heart — the fun loving, party-going, libidinous heart — often ends up taking a back seat due to physical exhaustion. (You hear about the same even happening with some stay-at-home dads (Baby Daddies), though most of them I know still seem to make time for Aphrodite!)

In her book Love Magic, Laurie Cabot describes the various personality archetypes and says that Hearth Goddesses, which in addition to the Grecian Hestia also includes Brigit, Cerridwen, Vesta, Hera, Isis, Hathor, Frigg, Arianrod, Nanna and Juno, are “very centered, inner-oriented women who develop great wisdom concerning the importance and meaning of everyday things.” While they can enjoy an active, rewarding love life, Cabot says for some Hearth Goddesses it’s often with more of a “take it or leave it” approach.

In the end, in naming our company, we found that Hestia had already found a couple suitors in the all-important world of Internet domains so we moved on and soon landed on Houstory, which also felt good at the time – and is feeling better and better and better every day.

Still, it was Hestia who called to us first. And we thank her. She’s done a wonderful job keeping the home fire stoked and helping us at Houstory establish a strong foundation for our young company. But the time has come to take off the permanent apron and put on your party shoes, girl! Because, just like here at Houstory, it’s starting to feel more and more these days like you actually can have it all.

I recently read a fun lesson plan that asked students to identify real-life modern day persons that possess the same traits as traditional heroes or figures from Greek mythology. Beyonce and Marilyn Monroe, for example, were mentioned as possible Aphrodites. Alas, Hestia, who never went in too much for the fame stuff, went  unclaimed. Any suggestions? Who do you think would make a good model for a modern-day Hestia? Leave your thoughts in the comment suggestion, below.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (or “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will generally focus on three things: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Environmental sustainability. If you see something that you think belongs in The Herd, we’d love to hear from you!

 

Family Heirlooms

Author: ABC News

Title: Woman reunited with heirloom wedding dress lost after tornadoes destroyed her home

Herd-Worthy Because: A feel-good story about the return of a family wedding dress after a tornado ripped through its owner’s home in Iowa. 

 

house history

Author: Washington Post

Title: Who died in your house? Here’s how to find out

Herd-Worthy Because: What can we say, it’s a popular question amongst many home history enthusiasts. We came across this article while trying to research a Web site called DiedInHouse.com — that for a modest fee — says it will search public records to find out if anyone has died at any valid U.S. address. As a bonus, the site says its search will also turn up any information about any fires or drug activity (i.e., was my beautiful old historic home — or the one I’m thinking of buying — ever a meth lab?) that took place on the property.

 

Author: The Daily Nonpareil, Council Bluffs, Iowa

Title: The History We Live In” series

Herd-Worthy Because: What a great idea! (If we do say so ourselves….) This Iowa newspaper picks out homes in the local area and digs into their past — and the stories of those who lived in them — as part of an occasional series it publishes.

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Houstory Herd: Louisiana Plantation Rich with Black History

black history, houstory, house history

A “slave cabin” at the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, LA  [Photo by Michael McCarthy, https://www.flickr.com/photos/msmccarthyphotography]

In honor of Black History Month, we seek lessons learned from a plantation with a dark history.

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Founder

Every home, as we like to say at Houstory, has a story.

And while much of our marketing material shows families happily living their stories and enjoying their homes, the truth, of course, is that not all home stories are rosy. Some stories can be hard to hear. But such stories are often those most worth preserving and sharing.

In honor of Black History Month and the idea that these difficult but important stories are worth sharing, we turn our attention to the Whitney Plantation on Louisiana’s River Road, 35 miles outside of New Orleans. The location opened its doors to the public in 2014.

Records show that an immigrant family from Germany bought the land for the plantation in 1752. Its second owner named it Whitney, after his grandson.

While there are a number of historic plantations on River Road, most focus on what one writer called the “hoop-skirt version of Southern history,” where visitors can tour grand, restored antebellum southern mansions and have picnics under trees or host weddings under big tents.

Whitney is the first plantation museum in the country dedicated to telling the unvarnished story of slavery. And much of that story is told by houses on the property.

A society’s architecture, and particularly the way those who make up that society choose (or have chosen for them) to put a roof over their heads gives unique insight into what life was like at a given time and place. It does so in a way that historical facts and statistics cannot.

At its peak — statistically — Whitney Plantation included 1,700 acres, most of it planted in sugarcane. According to historians, the original owners became one of the largest slaveholders in Louisiana. In 1860, a household inventory showed they owned 101 black slaves.

Over the years, many more people were enslaved on the Whitney Plantation; the names of 356 of them are etched in granite slabs on the museum’s Wall of Honor.

The biggest building on the property — simply known as the “Big House” — had seven rooms on each level and was completed sometime prior to 1815.

 

black history, houstory, house history

The “Big House” at the Whitney Plantation in 1926 [Photo by Robert Tebbs, The Collections of the Louisiana State Museum]

black history, houstory, house history

The “Big House” in 2015. [Photo by Michael McCarthy https://www.flickr.com/photos/msmccarthyphotography]

The Big House’s residents included the house slaves, who were — euphemistically — “on call” 24/7. Unlike their owners, slaves in the Big House slept on pallets on the floor.

The majority of Whitney’s slaves lived in cabins on the property. Before the Civil War there were 22 cabins. In the 1970s, 20 of the cabins were torn down to make it easier for tractor-trailer trucks picking up sugarcane to enter and exit the property. Since then, a few slave cabins from nearby properties were moved to the site and today visitors to the Whitney Plantation can tour seven cabins that housed slaves.

black history, house history

A “slave cabin” at the Whitney Plantation [Photo by Michael McCarthy, https://www.flickr.com/photos/msmccarthyphotography]

Made from cypress wood, the cabins look to have held up remarkably well over the past century-plus, bearing witness to our past in a visceral way that sticks.

As New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said, “Go on in. You have to go inside. When you walk in that space you can’t deny what happened to these people. You can feel it, touch it, smell it.”

That’s the power of architecture. And particularly the power of a house. A house tells a story in a way that history books never can. As you see where slaves cooked their meals day after day, where they slept, where they washed and how they lived their lives as humans, the story of slavery in America changes from something we’ve all read about to something you feel, something that touches the core.

Interior of slave cabin on Whitney Plantation. [Photo Courtesy of Whitney Plantation]

Interior of slave cabin on Whitney Plantation. [Photo Courtesy of Whitney Plantation]

Interior of slave cabin on Whitney Plantation. [Photo Courtesy of Whitney Plantation]

Interior of slave cabin on Whitney Plantation. [Photo Courtesy of Whitney Plantation]

As one visitor remarked:

“When we can get visitors to actually think about who these folks were and what their lives were like? That’s when you’ve made a difference.”

While the story of the Whitney Plantation is powerful, the story of the storyteller — and how the museum came to be — is also fascinating. The short version is that John Cummings, a white New Orleans trial lawyer now in his late 70s, purchased the plantation from a petrochemical firm in the 1990s and has spent millions of dollars on research, restoration and artifacts.

In an interview last year with National Public Radio, Cummings said he was inspired to turn the Whitney into a slavery museum after reading the slave narratives collected from 1936-1938 by the Works Progress Administration.

Americans, he said, have a hard time talking honestly about the legacy of slavery.

“If we can demonstrate that there is a hangover from slavery, they will then understand exactly what happened, and what obligation we [have] as a nation,” he says. “Maybe not as individuals — we didn’t own slaves. But as a nation, what is it that we can do to right some of the wrongs?”

 

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (or “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will generally focus on three things: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Environmental sustainability. If you see something that you think belongs in The Herd, we’d love to hear from you!

 

Family History

Author: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Title: Jesse Owens and me: My family has some ties to the 1936 Olympic Games

Herd-Worthy Because: The author remembers her great grandfather and the issues he faced regarding race and culture—as well as his connection to Olympian Jesse Owens. “Recently, I inherited a precious family heirloom, a signed souvenir book from the 1936 Berlin Olympics.”

 

Family Heirlooms

Author: PRI (Public Radio International)

Title: Heroes’ journeys end far differently, depending on their country of origin

Herd-Worthy Because: Author Marie Mitsuki Mockett explores how the Japanese often tell stories through their family heirlooms and precious belongings. “I have this theory that one of the reasons why the Japanese are so good at design, is because they see objects as alive,” she says. “It’s not just a thing. Like when you pick up a cup you want to feel good about the cup and feel it’s an object that has a soul.”

 

house history

Author: Yankee

Title: How Does the National Register of Historic Places Work? | Ask the Expert

Herd-Worthy Because: Do you think your home belongs on the National Register? Read this article and find out if you make the grade.

 

Author: Charlotte Observer

Title: Black History Month: Charlotte’s vanishing historic sites

Herd-Worthy Because: Old vs new. Gentrification vs recognition. Historically black neighborhoods in Charlotte face a lot of challenges. “It has taken a while for buildings to get enough mileage on them for people to look back and say: ‘That’s history.’ Many buildings have been torn down here before that magic moment arrived.”

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4 Easy Steps to Prepare for Your Death, Family History Style

Someday—I hate to break it to you—that “loved one” who passes away will be you. Family history prep starts now.

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

I’m guessing there are probably more than four steps that you can take to prepare for your death. In fact, the list is pretty much endless. For example, unless you die naked, who is going to clean the clothes you are wearing? What about the enormous pile of dishes you may have left in the sink? Do you have someone lined up to destroy your gutty attempt at a novel? In reality, none of us can fully prepare to die, right? But what about preparing to die when it comes to passing down family history?

Unique Obit

Luckily, there is some pretty low-hanging fruit out there that you may want to consider if you have a little time on your hands. And by “a little,” I mean a few hours.

I can hear you already: “But Dan, I don’t have time. I mean there is some much going on with the kids and work. Plus I need to take out the trash.”

I hear you. Don’t worry: what I’m proposing will not get you in trouble with Child Protective Services, your boss or the local sanitation department. As you’ll see below, following these steps take less than a sliver of time. The best part is that once you finish these tasks, you’re done for the most part. And trust me, you family will be really, really grateful that they don’t have to go searching for your legacy when you’re no longer around.

As a point of reference, I’m going to throw out this number:

8,760.

That’s the number of hours in a normal year. Each task will take time off this total. So, let’s do this thang. No better way to kick off the new year then to write about death, dying and all that jazz!

(1) Write you own obituary (2 hours)

This is perhaps the lowest hanging fruit of all. Creepy? Maybe. Important for passing on your family history? Definitely! Who better to write your story then… you? Hopefully, if this finds you in good health and you’re not risking your life on the job, this obituary will be very incomplete. In other words, you’ll have a lot left to write and you’ll likely need to update it in many, many moons.With that said, even if you were to take two dinky little hours this year to write down just a few basic details, such as where you had lived and what work you had done during your life, imagine the value that would provide for your loved ones. Not everyone knows your story, and don’t assume they do. Once you are finished, store it with your other estate-planning documents (life insurance, will, advanced directives, etc.). As someone who knows, having to scramble for obituary information about a recently departed loved one in the hours, days and weeks after they die is rough. Someday that “loved one” will be you.

Extra creditAnd if you get swept up in the idea of telling your own story, record a video/audio file talking about your life: How do you want people to remember you? Do you have life lessons, advice and stories you would like to pass on to family and friends? Doing this well takes time, so plan it out. Much of the time allotted for this task is pre-planning: decide what you want to say and what order you want to say it in. Keep it clean and simple. Otherwise—like a friend returning from an overseas trip in which they decide to share 1,700 photos of their trip to Turkey with you— this might be painful for people to watch. Make sure you designate where this personal history is stored and who is in charge of presenting it to family members and friends. You can also hire someone, too, like these guys.

(2) Gather your vital records (birth & death certificates; wedding & divorce records) (1 hour)

Just good practice, people. And easy peasy. Store them in a safe place and make sure your loved ones know where they are.

(3) Register 5 family heirlooms (1 hour)

Yes, this is a direct call for you to buy our stuff. But it’s only because we believe in the service and there is no one else out there doing it. There is a reason we’ve been around for nearly a decade. We’re serious. When you mark heirlooms with physical ID numbers, the story and the family heirloom stay together so that anyone can understand the item’s significance and look it up at any time, now or in the future. Don’t you want your kids to appreciate the items in your house as much as you did while you were not dead (i.e. alive)? Hint: It’s not as overwhelming if you start one room at a time. Make it your modest goal to take a walk through your house and pull aside five items that matter to you. 

(4) Make a favorites/dislikes/hobbies/day-in-the-life list (1 hour)

It may seem boring to you, but imagine if you recorded in writing or audio just one day in your life. Sure it may seem dull that you spent the first half of a Saturday in your boxer shorts making breakfast while listening to This American Life on NPR, then went to the grocery store to pick up groceries for the week that cost $53 (including $4.89 for a gallon of milk) and then came home to take a walk around the neighborhood before eating a dinner. But imagine how gold these details will be to your great-great grandkids.

Or, if you don’t like angle, make a Top 10 list of your favorite books, movies or food. For those with darker dispositions, you can do the same thing with dislike lists.

It’s all about hidden insight that people can’t derive from genealogical records alone. Time capsules baby!

Extra credit: Write some Love Letters. Death, I believe, is much, much harder on the living than on the dearly departed. Hopefully, all of your significant others already know how much they mean to you. But that’s not always the case. And certainly, putting those thoughts down in writing now—and tucking them away—would make for a beautiful, comforting and lasting gift right when they need it the most and for years to follow.

That’s it! In just 5 hours (.0006 percent of the year’s total) you’ve now prepared a SUBSTANTIAL gift to the future.

And great news! You still have 8,755 hours remaining that you can waste or use in whatever way you’d like. The nice thing is you can spread it out. There will be plenty of rainy weekends or times when you don’t want to deal with other humans. By going through this list, you’ll have a little fun traveling down memory lane; you’ll make life easier for your family who have to clean up after you (it doesn’t matter how great you think you are, it’s a pain); and you’ll effectively be able to share and save a family history that will live on well after someone has cleaned your last load of laundry.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

“The Hearth Herd” is a roundup (or “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will generally focus on three things: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Environmental sustainability. If you see something that you think belongs in The Herd, we’d love to hear from you!

Family History

Author: MyHeritage blog

Title: Create a Family Memory Jar for 2016

Herd-Worthy Because: “What is a family memory jar? It’s a glass jar or any container in which you can store family memories. It can be filled with short messages, everyday moments, photos or just about anything you want to preserve.” What a wonderful idea! Essentially, this is “Houstories” in a jar and an instant family heirloom. The day-to-day things are what makes a house a home.

 

Family Heirlooms

Author: Ancestry.com, The Family Curator

Title: Plan Ahead: Protect Your Genealogy from Disaster

Herd-Worthy Because: Our good friend Denise Levenick wrote this last spring, but it’s still pertinent. Also, we appreciate her mentioning a certain service that we happen to be big fans of. “Digital images of photographs, family letters, and treasured heirlooms will never fully replace a lost keepsake, but pictures and stories can preserve the memories of a special piece of furniture, a quilt, or a framed photograph… After you’ve assembled your heirloom history, share it widely with family, friends, and other researchers. Consider uploading images and stories to genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com or to the online heirloom history site The Heirloom Registry.”

Let us know what you think. If not us, then let that guy next to you in bus know what you think. After that, call your mom and tell her how great the Houstory Hearth is. Or you can just leave a comment. 

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White Friday anyone? Try an Alternative to Stuff This Holiday Season

By Mike and Dan Hiestand, The Houstory Brothers

 

no more stuff, #nomorestuff

Instead of waking up earlier and earlier on Black Friday (or increasingly never going to bed as more stores compete to open their doors first), battling the traffic and fighting the crowds for more stuff, what if you gave White Friday a try instead?

For the past few years, we’ve run our “No More Stuff” holiday campaign that encourages people to re-think the relationship they have with the objects and things that surround them before they head out shopping for things they may not really need or even truly want.

This year, we’re giving the campaign an official kickoff day — the day after Thanksgiving. Yes, we know we have some competition — so we’re calling ours White Friday.

Here’s how White Friday works: You sleep in as long as you need to. You sip your tea or coffee and bask in the memories of family and Thanksgiving the day before. Maybe you have a bit of breakfast. And then — when you’re ready — you take a leisurely stroll around the house taking notice of — and being grateful for — a few of the important pieces of “stuff” you already have. Maybe it’s an old family clock. Or a table that’s hosted family gatherings (such as dinner the day before). Or a treasured family photo. Or a special family cookbook. Or the crazy doo-dad sitting on the shelf that’s been in your life for as long as you can remember. And you write down their stories. (We call the things that you choose “heirlooms” here at The Heirloom Registry — but it’s really anything — old/new, expensive or “price-less” — that holds meaning for you.)

If you’re traveling and you’re waking up at your folks’ house (or grandparents’ — or some other relative) all the better! Let them choose the things that are important and whose stories they feel are worth sharing. You walk around with them, listen and take some notes. Maybe snap a photo or two of your family member in front of things he/she is talking about.

Here’s what I promise:

  1. You will learn something memorable you didn’t know before.
  2. You will smile.
  3. In years to come, you (and your family) will appreciate this simple gift more than almost anything else you could buy at 4 am.

It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated

To make it easy, we are gifting you this free, downloadable form that will help you collect some of the more pertinent information. When you finish you can simply attach the form to the back of the “heirloom” or file it with your important documents.

You can also try out The Heirloom Registry — for free — by signing up this holiday season for a complimentary registration number when you visit our Web site. (If you want to get a bit more fancy by ordering a permanent registration label or plate, we can help you with that.) But you don’t need to.

The important thing is that you do it. Because the stories of our family heirlooms usually disappear with our family members. And an heirloom without a story is — as we say — just more stuff.

We know it might sound crazy. And if you genuinely need that digital bathroom scale and can get it for the insanely low price of $9.99, go for it. (We all need things. That’s life on Earth.) Heck, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a mixture of both Black and White Friday. A Shade of Grey Friday feels like a step in the right direction.

But be the change you want to see in the world, right? We’d like a world that  makes room for a White Friday.

And we’d like to sleep in.

Happy Holidays!

Mike and Dan

 

Preserve, conserve, #nomorestuff

 

Houstory Herd: A Magic Treehouse

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory President

IMG_0387

“All treehouses are sort of magic, don’t you think?”

I’m having pizza with Karen LaVerne, sitting in her treehouse, outside Bellingham, Wash., and I have to admit, lit up with candles on this beautiful fall night, a bit of a mist settling into the woods outside, this place feels very, very magical indeed.

“This place has that feeling for me,” Karen continues. “Pretty much everything in here has a story, has some meaning.”

And though I’d just come to have dinner and catch up with my friend, I knew it was time to put on my home historian hat and get out my notebook. Because, like all homes, it occurred to me that every tree house also has a story. And this one sounded like it would be a good one.

Karen tells me that she and her husband Peter moved into their main home in 1992. That home — which has its own impressive history — sits on about 5 acres, most of which is heavily wooded. There are only a few paths disturbing the natural setting, which includes soaring old growth maple and cedar trees.

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Peter, she said, loved these woods. He was a horticulturist for the county park department for several decades. Part of his legacy, I learn, is being the primary force in creating a popular fragrance garden in my hometown of Ferndale, Wash., which has always been one of my favorite spots

Peter, Karen tells me, had promised their grandson Dane that he’d build him a treehouse amongst the trees and plants he loved so much. In fact, he’d just started putting the plans together when he was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. He died about four months later in January 2011.

Time passed as Karen and her family adjusted to their new life. After several months, she said, talk about the treehouse came up again.

Dane, she said, assumed the treehouse plans had come to end with Peter’s death.

“I heard that,” Karen said, “and asked myself ‘What’s a grandma to do?’”

Still working through the sudden loss of her husband, she said something told her she needed to move forward and finish Peter’s vision.

And so she told her grandson the treehouse plans were a go and hired a carpenter.

“I gave him pretty much free reign. He was creative and having fun. But it was pretty rudimentary, like most treehouses.”

IMG_0398

The front porch view. The porch railings were repurposed from a teepee Peter had built on the property.

That would soon change.

The first thing was that I wanted some doors and paint, she said. And then Dane came up and asked for rugs and curtains.

“He’s a city boy,” she laughed.

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When it became clear this was going to be something more than a kid’s tree fort, she hired a second carpenter and friend, Rebecca Meloy – who was also an artist – to take on the project and add the features she and Dane were looking for.

Rebecca, she said, saw the treehouse’s potential from the beginning.

“She loved this place. She loved the setting and the idea. I gave her creative license and she ran with it, adding flourishes here and there, and really turning this into the magical place that it is.”

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Part of Rebecca’s vision was incorporating Peter’s presence.

“This is definitely Peter’s treehouse,” Karen said. “He was a packrat.”

Karen said her husband would pick up odd pieces here and there and set them aside, storing much of it in their basement.

“It (the basement) was a mess,” Karen said. “But on some level he knew what he was doing, because pretty much everything in the treehouse came out of that basement – and fit perfect.”

In addition to incorporating many of Peter’s finds into the treehouse, Rebecca added one big thing.

“Rebecca told me one day, I’m going to make you a bedroom.”

“And that was it!” Karen said.

Adding a small separate sleeping area, she said, made this more than just a playhouse to spend a few hours — it made it a magic home in the woods, a real place to entertain occasional guests and to live with the trees and plants and animals in the forest.

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The sleeping area

 

Karen frequently spends the night in the house during the summer listening to the wind and the birds, sometimes the rain.

The back of the treehouse incorporates some old mirrors that Peter had collected to create a floating effect.

The back of the treehouse incorporates some old mirrors that Peter had collected create a floating effect

She says she’s never alone. And not just because she is usually accompanied by her beloved dogs, who are still learning to navigate the open stairs leading up to the treehouse.

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Karen and her Corgi companions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I love this place. And Peter loves this place.”

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Now, on to The Herd for this month…

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (or “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will generally focus on three things: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Environmental sustainability. If you see something that you think belongs in The Herd, we’d love to hear from you!

 

Family History

Author: WBUR, Boston Public Radio

Title: “This Thanksgiving, Listen To (And Interview) Your Elders”

Herd-Worthy Because: Yes! Yes! Yes! We’ve been urging folks for a couple years now to use Thanksgiving (or any family gathering — but we love Thanksgiving!) to walk around the house with older family members and have them tell you the stories of a couple important things to ensure their stories aren’t lost. (In fact, we’ve created a simple form you can download that helps you do just that and makes it easy to later enter that information into The Heirloom Registry if you are so inclined.) The folks at NPR’s Story Corp would have you do much the same thing — they’re just asking that you take a recording device with you. A great idea, if we do say so ourselves!

 

Family Heirlooms

Author: Kara Baskin, Boston Globe

TitleCan Heirlooms Really Fit Into Your Decor?”

Herd-Worthy Because: Heirlooms are special — different from a piece of furniture you just picked up from Ikea — because they have a history. But that “specialness,” this article notes, can often bring with it interesting, sometimes difficult, emotional and practical issues as one tries to incorporate heirlooms with a past into a present-day life.

 

house history

Author: Keri Sanders, HGTV.com

Title: “Restored! Nicole’s Best Historic Home Saves

Herd-Worthy Because: No surprise, but we’re big fans of HGTV’s Nicole Curtis, host of the TV show “Rehab Addict.” Nicole is passionate about honoring a home’s past and telling its stories as she brings properties back to life. It is simply part of her DNA. Here’s a fun before/after photo slideshow showing some of her favorite projects.

 

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Houstory Herd: ‘Origins’ Podcast

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

On this this third episode of “Houstories: The Stories of Home” podcast (entitled “Origins”), we pack up for a weekend trip. Not just any trip, though: My first hunting trip. Initially, my goal is to discover the origins of the food I eat by going to the source (in this case small game in Central Oregon). However, along the way, I discover the origins of a unique family cabin constructed with nearly 100 percent recycled materials!

A shell casing near the homestead.

A shell casing near the homestead.

Sense a theme here? Make sure to check out the pictures later in this post to see images from a very interesting weekend.

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Paul Bloom spoke of, “The Origins of Pleasure” in a TED Talk several years ago (see video link in this article). In it, he talked about the pleasure — and often monetary value — associated with knowing the story behind objects.

 

“So one reason why you might like something is its utility,” he said. “You can put shoes on your feet; you can play golf with golf clubs; and chewed up bubble gum doesn’t do anything at all for you. But each of these three objects has value above and beyond what it can do for you based on its history. The golf clubs were owned by John F. Kennedy and sold for three-quarters of a million dollars at auction. The bubble gum was chewed up by pop star Britney Spears and sold for several hundreds of dollars. And in fact, there’s a thriving market in the partially eaten food of beloved people. (Laughter) The shoes are perhaps the most valuable of all. According to an unconfirmed report, a Saudi millionaire offered 10 million dollars for this pair of shoes. They were the ones thrown at George Bush at an Iraqi press conference several years ago.”

Without a doubt, origin stories are powerful (and often times valuable) things.

We also asked our good friend Denise Levenick, aka The Family Curator, five questions that have nothing to do with family history, genealogy, family heirlooms or house history. The way she performed, I’m pretty sure she’s done this before. Well played, Denise!

Denise Levenick, The Family Curator

Denise Levenick, The Family Curator

Mike also told you of his “Tinker Tour” adventures, and his eventual path to the Playboy Mansion, where he hand-delivered a Home History Book to one of the most famous homes on Planet Earth. You can read about both of these here.

Finally, if you like what you hear on our podcast and you have a spare moment, would you mind giving us a good review on iTunes?

LISTEN HERE! WELL, NOT HERE. JUST BELOW. YOU GET THE POINT.

 

Back-to-school ideas for budding family historians

If it’s September, it’s back to school: learning new things, meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s also the beginning of the end of long summer days and the return to more indoor activities.

With this in mind — and the perfect “genealogy weather” on the horizon — Mike and I thought it would be a good time to see what sort of educational resources exist (particularly those aimed at kids) that might spark an interest in learning about their family history, helping them feel connected to the bigger picture and their place in it.

As the folks at Family Search note, Many people desire to know where they come from, but a sense of belonging is especially important for children and youth. A knowledge about their family history gives children of all ages a sense of their place in the world.”

Not surprisingly, Family Search is one of our favorite resources for inspiring budding family historians.  While the site is large and contains a number of helpful resources, a good starting place is their Youth Wiki Page where they’ve listed several activities and loads of resources. Many of the activities are aimed at stimulating discussion between generations while such sharing can still occur. It’s a theme we talk about frequently at Houstory. It includes such things a list of basic questions a young person can ask when interviewing an older ancestor.

Another useful site is Family Tree Kids! hosted by our friends at Family Tree magazine. The site includes a “Junior Toolkit” with links to basic family tree forms that kids can use to trace their roots and instructions, tips for making a family reunions “kid friendly” and — as Halloween approaches — instructions for creating a tombstone rubbing. The site also includes information about resources aimed at parents and teachers.

And since we’re all about telling the story of important family stuff (aka family heirlooms), we especially liked the “My Family! My Story!” Genealogy Project Series created by the Victoria Genealogical Society, which includes tips for preserving the stories of family keepsakes. As FamilySearch notes, for young people especially, “holding something that once belonged to an ancestor can be a powerful experience. Pictures and heirlooms make the past come alive.”

Send us your obits contest!

Finally, we still challenge listeners to send us a paragraph of your own obit! Yes, your living obituary — just like the one I penned for my father-in-law. If we read your words on air during our next podcast, we will send you a pack of Heirloom Registry labels so you can preserve and pass on the stories of your family heirlooms. Send those entries to info (at) houstory (dot) com. (If you just want to inspire others, but would prefer we not use your real name when reading it, let us know.)

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

HERD-Sustainability

Author: The New York Times

TitleA Project to Turn Corpses Into Compost

Herd-Worthy Because: Planning ahead isn’t just about end-of-life care or estate planning. Think to the very end and become plant food! “Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds..(but) our bodies have nutrients. What if we could grow new life after we’ve died?”

Family Heirlooms

Author, WBUR

TitleThe Value Of Family Heirlooms In A Digital Age

Herd-Worthy Because: “How long can we expect mementos to remain valued by a younger generation three generations removed from the original owner?”

Family History

Author: The Weekly Genealogist, a publication of the New England Historic Genealogy Society

Title: “Share Your Story at Family History Day

Herd-Worthy Because: Family stories connect us to loved ones, the past, and each other. The New England Historic Genealogy Society invites you to Share the Story of a Lifetime at our 2015 Family History Day on Saturday, October 3, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sheraton Boston Hotel. This day of lectures, demonstrations, and consultations with genealogical experts will help you learn about essential resources and delve deeper into your family history. Visit AmericanAmerican.org/FHD to register and learn more about the day’s events. Special offers available for members, students, and groups. Presented by American Ancestors (NEHGS), with the special participation.

house history

Author: The Weekly Genealogist, a publication of the New England Historic Genealogy Society

Title: “Why old places matter: Here are 14 reasons

Herd-Worthy Because: “Mayes came up with his 14 reasons by making site visits to historic places, reading articles and books on the subject and conducting interviews with people outside the preservation field — people such as archaeologists, architects, historians, artists, developers, writers and businessmen.”

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Houstory Herd: Place and Family History

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

So I belong to a local Toastmasters group in Eugene, Oregon. I joined the club to work on my communication skills (giving speeches, making presentations, producing podcasts, etc.).

The meeting allows members a chance to speak on a variety of topics in an effort to improve, and one subject that was recently presented to me was this biggie: “What is your favorite place in the world.” Well, I could list off a lot of places I love, but the one that came to mind was a location that held an important place in my family history called Granite Creek Campgroundnear Anchorage, Alaska. It was an oasis for me growing up, a campground that brings back memories of catching my first fish and action-packed getaways with my family.

houstory, heirloom registry, home history book, houstories, podcast, family heirloom, house history, family history, Klamath Falls, Oregon,

Dan and Dad in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

To me, I remember Granite Creek felt like home. If you want to know more about me and my life path, you need to know about Granite Creek and its importance in my personal history.

The second episode of our new Houstories podcast examines a similar concept: What places do you connect with family history? For this episode, we travel to Klamath Falls, Oregon., to delve deeper into the topic. That’s where I have a chance find out a little bit more about what makes my dad tick. How? He lived there 60-plus years ago as a little kid, and I recently joined him and his brother (my Uncle John) on a journey to learn a little bit more about their connection to the area.

In this episode, my brother Mike and I also chat about one woman’s unique and humorous approach to preserving her legacy in the face of battling a terminal illness.

Finally, we ask Allison Dolan of Family Tree Magazine penetrating questions about life outside of genealogy, including the longest she has gone without bathing. (Thank you for being a good sport, Allison!)

Allison Dolan, family tree magazine, houstory

Allison Dolan

Yes, it is mostly fun and games at Houstory. Speaking of games, Allison has graciously offered to give away Denise Levenick’s new book, “How to Archive Family Photos.” If it is anything like her outstanding book, “How to Archive Family Keepsakes,” you will learn much from The Family Curator.

To enter the drawing for a chance to win her book, send us an email at info (at) houstory.com telling us who taught Dan’s dad to play basketball. [Hint 1: The answer is in the podcast!] [Hint 2: It’s between the 12:12 — 15:15 minute mark.] Winner will be randomly selected from among the correct entries. One entry per person, please. Final entries due May 31.

And for those of you who want to start saving your stories of home, send us your obituary. Yes, you heard that correctly.

Give us one paragraph telling us what you liked to do while you were alive (hobbies, interests, etc.). Yes, your living obituary — just like the one I penned for my father-in-law. If we read your words on air during our next podcast, we will send you a pack of Heirloom Registry labels so you can preserve and pass on the stories of your family heirlooms. Send those entries to info (at) houstory (dot) com. (If you just want to inspire others, but would prefer we not use your real name when reading it, let us know.)

Finally, make sure to check out the links we mentioned in the podcast with our Herd stories at the end of this post, as well as photos of Dan’s Klamath Falls trip. And of course listen to the podcast, too.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

Continue reading

Houstory Herd: We Want HouStories

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

Do you own a family heirloom with an interesting story? Do you live in a house that has a compelling history? Would you like to share these tales and other related HouStories with others?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, we need to talk.

We’d appreciate the opportunity to connect with you about the possibility of making your story a part of our new podcast. In case you didn’t hear, episode 1 of the podcast was unveiled a few weeks ago, and No. 2 is on the way shortly. In the meantime, we want to line up some good stories for future episodes.

Why should you do this? Your story can help inspire other Houstorians to preserve and share their own houstories. I can’t tell you how many times I hear our customers and supporters say: “Boy, that is a great idea. I should document and share the stories behind my house and family heirlooms.”

And then they put it off, forget about it and wish they had done so later. Your words may help others to take a few precious moments to save those stories.

Drop us a line to talk about that old Craftsman home that your mom and dad bought during the Depression, or chat about Uncle Theo’s rocking chair or Grandma Patty’s quilt. Shoot us an e-mail at info (at) houstory (dot) com, or hit us up at our Facebook, Google+ (Home History Book & Heirloom Registry) or Twitter accounts. We hope to hear from some of you.

Now, on to The Herd for this month…

Continue reading

Houstory Herd: Death and Tea Edition

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

dan hiestand, houstory, heirloom registry, home history book

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

Have you ever sat down with a small group of people — strangers, actually — over a warm cup of tea and a slice of delicious cake, and talked about death?

Well, after last week, I can check this off my (kick the) bucket list. I attended my first “Death Cafe,” a worldwide “social franchise” movement that started several years ago. The group I participated in included about 30 people who were there to talk about anything and everything that had to do with death and dying. As someone representing The Heirloom Registry, one topic included family inheritance — an important part of the death process.

dementia, houstory

Source: The New York Times

A future blog post will be dedicated to this important movement, which is very much in line with what Houstory stands for: planning for the future and protecting your family by preparing for the inevitable now.

During my Cafe experience, I was part of a smaller, four-person breakout group that talked about death for more than an hour — specifically on advanced directives and end-of-life medical decisions. We actually had to pause the roundtable just as we were getting started, but it initiated a very healthy conversation.

In fact, earlier today, one participant of the group (a stranger no more) e-mailed me this recent New York Times story that discussed the complexities of having dementia and facing end of life decisions. The common theme to all of this: plan for your “finish line” scenario now. After all, death is always toughest on those who are left behind.

Check out the Death Cafe Web site to find out about groups near you.

Now, on to The Herd….

What is “The Hearth Herd.” It’s simply a roundup (hence the name “Herd”) of a few stories we’ve seen recently that we feel our fellow Houstorians would be interested in. The Herd’s content will be confined to three main categories: 1) House and property history; 2) Family heirlooms; 3) Natural Resource Conservation. Basically, the things you’ve come to expect when you visit our blog.

This is where you come in: If you see stories you think would make our monthly collection, please shoot me an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet

Author: Marla Jo Fisher, Orange County Register

TitleGrandpa’s old radio leads to intriguing questions about family history

Herd-Worthy BecauseAfter my grandparents passed away, my other relatives went through their tiny clapboard house like a pack of ravening wolves, taking everything of value. But they ignored the radio, probably sensing it was nearly worthless.”

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Author: Matt Gurney, National Post

TitleMatt Gurney: A solution to the hard cull of family heirlooms

Herd-Worthy Because: “(The solution) struck me as a thoroughly 21st century solution to the problem; effectively, you outsource the emotional impact to someone who won’t feel it the same way that you would.

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Author: Catherine E. Shoichet, MarketWatch

Title1795 time capsule opened, centuries after Revere and Adams buried it

Herd-Worthy BecauseMore than 200 years after Samuel Adams and Paul Revere first buried it in Boston, it took an hour to remove all the objects crammed inside a tiny time capsule.

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Author: Anna Rumer, Times Recorder

TitlePair preserving history one memory at a time

Herd-Worthy Because: “Sometimes, however, because of their size or location, smaller pieces of history can be overlooked. But people such as Nancy Ranck and Mary Flanagan are refusing to let those things pass them by…”

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House History

Author: Megan Turchey, Times Recorder

Title3D Laser Technology Recreates Historic Homes

Herd-Worthy BecauseThe Paul Revere House in the North End has already used their 3D model to do renovations on the house, keeping it as authentic as possible.

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Author: Justine Hofherr, Boston.com

TitleStaff Book Picks: What Makes a House a Home?

Herd-Worthy Because: “Some of our choices are practical – about construction or decoration. Others are non-fiction narratives about building or creating a home. And we threw in a few fiction stories in which characters struggle with their own ideas of home.”

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Until we “Herd” again…