Legacy through the stomach: Family cookbooks and family recipes as family heirlooms

This post originally ran Aug. 1, 2012. It details the importance that family cookbooks play as family heirlooms — and in turn as vital parts of family history.

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

For the better part of two decades, my grandparents lived in paradise. To find this “Eden,” pull out a map of the contiguous United States, and let your fingers inch up, up, north to the Canadian border; then left, left, west to the Pacific.

You’ll know you’re in the right place when you reach the part of Washington state that isn’t there. Or rather, only bits of land are visible  — tiny dots amid the cold, salty waters of the Puget Sound. It was on one of these specks, among the San Juan Islands on a place called Lopez Island, that I spent some of my most memorable childhood days.

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Gommy in the garden on Lopez Island.

Lopez is a little less than 30 square miles in area, and is a biker’s paradise because of its relatively flat landscape. During the ’70s and ’80s, when my grandparents Tom and Gerri Walsh lived there, it was still a relatively unknown place compared to the vacation home-laden landscape of today — a retirees’ paradise where everyone (quite literally) waved to everyone they might pass on the road.

For me, what defined paradise as a kid was simple: spending summer days skipping glacier-flattened rocks on Fisherman’s Bay; upturning boulders to search for scurrying rock crabs; sailing to town for warm french fries and cold cokes with my brothers; hot dogs by the fire on the beach…you get the picture.  

Food, of course, was a centerpiece of my memories. I suppose that’s what having fresh Northwest berries with nearly every breakfast (picked straight out of my grandparent’s garden), or dining on crab caught just an hour earlier will do.

I still remember, very clearly, Gommy (“grandma,” for our audience) baking bread in the kitchen, and Gompy (grandpa) picking long, fresh green beans for the night’s dinner.

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What brought all this up for me was a video I recently watched over at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. In the piece, genealogist Lisa Louise Cooke interviewed Gena Philibert-Ortega, who authors the blog “Food.Family.Ephemera,”which looks at how food history and family history intertwine. You can hear the full interview at the Genealogy Gem’s podcast page (episode 137).

As Gena and Lisa discussed, knowing what past generations incorporated into their meals brings a family’s history alive in a way other bits of data (such as census records and obituaries) simply cannot. The “Rhubarb Torte” recipe that Gommy submitted to The Lopez Island Cookbook — a 189-page community effort flowered with the dishes of the island’s citizens — is now my “Rhubarb Torte.” Anytime I want to take my taste buds back to the driftwood-lined beaches of Fisherman’s Bay, I’m but a few ingredients away.

Through her palate and her cookbook, a vital part of my grandma’s legacy is alive. Now, it’s up to me to make sure my heirs receive this message.

It’s been more than 20 years since Gommy and Gompy sold their house on the island, and the Lopez of today has a much different feel than the one I grew up with. I think it simply doesn’t feel quite as small as it once did.  I’m glad I have my grandmother’s cookbook to remember it the way I want to.

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The back page of my Lopez Island Cookbook.

For Gommy’s “Lopez Island Cookbook” Rhubarb Torte recipe, as well as some more photos, please visit our Facebook page. Do you have any family cookbooks that have been passed down, or you plan on passing down to your heirs? How about any family recipes? Please share it with our readers, and let us know what you think of our blog. Thanks!

Rowhouse Tour: ‘Four Homes for the Holidays’

This week, The Houstory Hearth welcomes a holiday-themed guest post from DIY Del Ray.

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Photo courtesy of DIY Del Ray

According to their Web site: “DIY Del Ray, a blog founded by Leslie, Katie and Sara, celebrates the art of small-space living and the creative spirit. We talk about interior design, unique storage solutions, living with kids, home improvement and craft projects, entertaining, and all the charming features of Del Ray, a neighborhood in Alexandria, VA.”

We first came across the blog a few weeks ago, when we found this great story they penned on using family heirlooms to tell your family’s story.

This week, DIY Del Ray takes a peak inside four, holiday-decorated rowhouses in the Del Ray community, and we wanted you all to come along. It’s title: “Four Homes for the Holidays.

“Living on a street of typical 1950s identical rowhouses, it’s always interesting to see how people decorate the inside of their homes — their paint choices, furniture arrangements and at this time of year, how they decorate for the holidays,” they write. “There isn’t much wiggle room in these houses – every last inch serves a purpose for something – but that hasn’t quelled the festiveness or desire to create a warm and cozy haven at home.”

To take the tour, read on. Thank you to DIY Del Ray for sharing your story with Houstory. Speaking of Houstory, Mike and Dan wish all of our readers a happy and safe holiday!

 

Do you use any holiday heirlooms to decorate your home? Do you decorate your home in a unique way? Share your photos at our Facebook page — we’d love to see them!

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Photo courtesy of DIY Del Ray

A different kind of December: Say ‘no’ to more ‘stuff’ — honor what you already have

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Sales and Marketing Director

Editor’s note: I can break the rules. I’m off-topic before I begin. Just give me second, ok? If you are ever bored and have time to waste, Google “stupid gifts for pets.” Better yet, do an image search. You’re welcome in advance, and this will actually make sense if you read the article below. Enjoy!

It’s ironic that as the sales and marketing director of a company I helped create, I originally had to sell myself on my own product line.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always thought the concepts we champion (telling the stories behind houses and heirlooms) are fascinating.  After all, research, writing and crafting stories have been pillars of my professional life for the past 15 years.

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Our products (The Home History Book™ and The Heirloom Registry™) are steeped in story, and I’ve always been sold on these ideas. How can you not appreciate learning the background of a unique relic, the chair grandma used to sit in every night after dinner, a grandfather clock — or the intimate details of a 1920s Craftsman home?

Concept was never the problem. No, my issue was much more tangible.

Simply put, I didn’t want to put more “stuff” into the world. Now, stuff is a broad term, but in my mind it has a reasonably clear meaning: items that hold little or no value in terms of practical use, sentimentality or enduring entertainment.

If an item falls into one of these three categories, I don’t believe it to be just “stuff.” Let’s break this down.

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Practical Use

These are items you genuinely can’t live without, and probably use more than a couple times per month.  They may include everything from a vacuum cleaner to a pair of shoes to a computer and all sorts of things in between.

Sentimentality

Admittedly, this is in the Houstory wheelhouse. These include items that you are holding on to simply because they inspire and move you. Family keepsakes, photos and heirlooms would fall into this category, of course.

Enduring Entertainment

I’m not the “stuff police,” ok? If you want to buy a flat screen TV, or spend money on a new camera, book or electric slippers, more power to you. I would simply ask that you consider the item’s true value to your life before pulling the trigger. Will you still be using these items in five years, or will they simply be discarded in a landfill  in a few months?

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I realize I run the risk of sounding preachy, but I’m not trying to. I just think if I’m going to make such a declaration, I need to define my terms.

Heck, I’m writing this from a laptop, and my home is filled with things – including stuff. Did I truly need that box of Dog Cigars (see “stupid gifts for pets” reference above)? No. That’s a poor example, actually. I don’t even own a dog.

However, I think it’s safe to say most everyone has stuff, including me.

Which brings me back to selling myself on Houstory. Before I invested time, money and started down this entrepreneurial path, I needed our products to meet this self-imposed “anti-stuff” criterion.

In particular, The Home History Book – a substantial coffee table book with 244 pages and an engraved brass plate – gave me pause for introspection. Being built to last, which the book certainly is, requires effort and natural resources. While we did our level best to build the book responsibly (see “Built Responsibly” link at bottom of home page), we also wanted to ensure it would be something that provides long-term value to its owners.

Happily, in the end, not only did I conclude we are not just selling stuff, we are actually helping people to transform their items from being “stuff” into valued belongings.

We believe the more you know about your possessions– whether they are houses or heirlooms – the more likely you are to hold on to them, and not just demolish or discard and replace them with newer, shinier stuff.

family history, conservation, preservation, houstory, heirloom registry

Why are most historic homes valuable? Quality construction? Perhaps. Location? Maybe. Or is it history? Every day, homes are saved from demolition because of the stories behind them.

What about family heirlooms?  Picture two identical grandfather clocks, side-by-side. However, you know that one clock was purchased by your great-grandfather as a wedding gift for your great-grandmother.  You know nothing of the other clock. Which one would you probably keep and maintain?

Undoubtedly, historical preservation leads to conservation.

Sadly, the term conservation has become highly politicized, divisive and attributed to more liberal-leaning factions. I’m not quite sure why, as the term “CONSERVative” is derived from the very same root word.

In reality, I think all parties are on the same page: We want to leave things better than we found them for future generations. If you do feel this way – and we think you do – do something about it.

Which brings us to our “No More Stuff/Preserve. Conserve.” campaign this month. Here are some things you can do right now.

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Preserve. Conserve.  And say “no” to “more stuff.”

Do it differently this December.

 

Let us know what you think. Do you agree with our campaign? Do you think we are full of hot air? Do you have too much stuff? Do you think buying stuff  — as we’ve defined it — is even a problem? Do you own Dog Cigars? We want to hear from you. Let’s get this conversation started.

Study: ‘Family stories’ more important than inheritance

There have been a number of studies over the past several years that have tried to get a handle on how much wealth pre-baby boomers — those born before 1946 — are going to pass down to their baby boomer and post-baby boomer heirs.

In fact, while all agree the number will set a new record for intergenerational transfers, the figures vary widely, ranging from $25 trillion to $136 trillion. The specific number probably isn’t that important to most of us since any number followed by a trillion — with a “T” — is a lot.  Perhaps surprisingly, however, a study found that amount is also of less interest to the boomers themselves.

In a 2005 study commissioned by the Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, 86% of boomers named “family stories” as the most important part of their legacy — ahead of possessions and inheritance.

The study, which consisted of interviews with more than 2,600 seniors and boomers, also found that non-financial items that parents leave behind — like ethics, morals, faith, and religion — are 10 times more important to both boomers and their parents than the financial aspects of inheritance.

The parents, however, aren’t buying it.

“Boomers,” the study found, “indicate they prefer to preserve their parents’ memories than receive a financial inheritance, while elders believe their boomer children are more interested in money.”

The study concluded that this disconnect, which is part of what the authors referred to as a “Legacy Gap,” needs to be addressed by parents and their children. To do so, the study identified “4 Pillars” that it suggests should form the basis of a meaningful conversation. Those included having discussions about: (1) values and life lessons, (2) instructions and final wishes and (3) financial assets.

A fourth pillar was a discussion of “personal possessions of emotional value,” or what we at Houstory simply like to call “heirlooms.”

Specifically the study urges heirs to ask their senior family members:

  • Are there items that document your life and/or family’s life that you would like to see passed on to future generations
  • Where do you keep your family photos – in albums or saved electronically, or other
  • Do you have any journals, diaries, scrapbooks, family history, or other important documents you would like to pass on?
  • Do you have household items that hold significant emotional value, but do not have much financial value?
  • Do you have toys, books, or mementos that you’d like to pass on to your children or grand children
  • Are there items like art, crafts, or furniture that evoke fond memories for you and your family?
  • Have you planned for the distribution of these items?

Of course, it’s these very questions and a desire to create an easy, effective and inexpensive way to address them that inspired the creation of The Heirloom Registry.

Giving one’s senior parents or relatives a handful of registry stickers or tags — or better, taking a couple hours to walk around their home with them to hear and help record stories about a few special items — can be both tremendously satisfying and a big step in helping close the legacy gap.

100-year-old mystery package to “benefit and delight future generations” opened in Norway

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Founder

So, I just watched a livestream of a “mysterious” 100-year-old package being opened after being stored in a Norwegian museum for all these years.

The Norwegian newspaper, Verdens Gang, said the package dates back to Aug. 26, 1912, when it was delivered by a local man named Johan Nygard, along with a note saying not to open it for 100 years and that its contents would “benefit and delight future generations.”

Timing — as they say — is everything, and the worldwide interest sparked by this small, indescript package was in no doubt helped by its 2012 delivery date. Let’s be honest: It seems like the world today could use a few “benefits and delights.”

So the Norwegian city of Sel took full advantage of the spotlight. As the event was shown live on Norwegian TV and streamed over the Internet, a full auditorium watched an unveiling ceremony that included emcees clad in traditional Norwegian dress, musical performances, dancing and the mayor with a pair of scissors to cut the package’s twine before turning it over to white-gloved historians to do the official opening.

(Note: I’m not going to SPOIL the surprise here. To find out what the package contained, I’ll let you click on the video link above.)

What is it about time capsules?

Certainly, much of it is just human curiosity, a powerful force.

But I think just as powerful as our curiosity to know what was in Mr. Nygard’s package was the desire of Mr. Nygard to know that we — living people  — would be opening his gift so many generations later, after his initial act was mostly forgotten. And boy did he succeed! From more than 5,000 miles away I watched along with a worldwide audience to see what Johan Nygard left for us.

Leaving a legacy — something that says “I was here” is, I think, a basic human instinct. Whether it’s hieroglyphics on a cave wall, a pyramid, a personal journal, a note scribbled in a family cookbook or letters or photos left in the walls  during home renovations (please, get a Home History Book  archival journal instead!)  — time capsules come in all shapes and sizes. And all are a treat. Whether you are the one who finds the time capsule — or as Johan Nygard might be thinking today — the person who left it.

Can something be considered an heirloom without a story?

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

As we head into the “lazy days” of summer, some questions for you to ponder in the hammock…

Do you have anything in your home that has a story behind it? Maybe it’s a quilt handed down from mom; a clock given to you by a favorite uncle; a coffee table received as a wedding gift; or a set of dishes passed down through the years?

In my living room, I have a simple fountain lamp that was purchased for me just a few years ago. It’s not old (in fact it was new when I received it), and it’s not monetarily that valuable. If you saw the lamp, you may think it was nice — but probably not much more.

The Heirloom Registry

The story of my lamp is now safe and accessible in The Heirloom Registry

You wouldn’t know where or when it was purchased, or by whom — or that it has traveled with me around the world since it was acquired. In other words, you would not know why this lamp is much more than just a ‘thing’ to me, and is one of my most precious belongings.

I think it’s safe to say that without its story, my little lamp would just be more “stuff” in my home.

With this example in mind, how can we make sure the stories and provenance  behind the things we truly care about — those relatively few, irreplaceable belongings you would want to grab if there was a fire in the house — will always remain with the items?

Or, in my case, how can I make sure that my son, daughter or relative in the year 2075 will know that my lamp purchased in 2005 was not just a piece of junk — but was something of great sentimental value that marked an important period in my life?

Enter The Heirloom Registry (www.heirloomregistry.com), the latest offering from Houstory Publishing, creator of the Home History Book archival journal.

What is The Heirloom Registry? The Registry allows you to pass on the story of your treasured belongings to future generations using high-quality labels and brass plates in conjunction with registration codes and a secure online database.

In other words, it will help make sure that if someone sees my little lamp decades from now, they will have very easy access to the story behind it.

To learn how it works, please watch the short video accompanying this post. If you’d like to test out the site for free, please sign up for a free account at www.heirloomregistry.com

Dear Photograph: 22-year-old starts a ‘new-age nostalgic’ storytelling movement

Not long ago, we came upon a concept that immediately resonated with us: A Web site that urges users to blend the past and present together using photography.  It’s a notion very similar to our Houstory Hearth post from March (“Bring your home’s history to life using these simple photo tips“). In that article, we talked about the magic of shooting pictures of your house from a similar vantage point to one done in the past, and then blending the images together. The results were impressive and fascinating.

Dear Photograph, nostalgia, photography, family stories, genealogy, preservation

Dear Photograph, the book, features more than 200 photos submitted readers.

Dear Photograph, which was started by 22-year-old Taylor Jones, urges a similar call to action — except with more of a focus on people. No digital manipulation is required, as submitters simply hold up a current photo against the background of an older photo — lining up the angles as best as possible — and snapping a shot of that image. These juxtapositions are not only fun, but also elicit a lot of emotion .

Maybe it’s revisiting the site of your senior photo and reenacting a similar scene 20 years later, or going back to grandma’s dining room to take an updated photo of a family dinner 30 years past.

Listen to a story on Dear Photograph — including how Jones developed the idea (spoiler alert: Winnie the Pooh was involved) —  from earlier this week .

Over the past year — since the conception of the project — thousands of people have contributed photos to his blog, and earlier this month he published a book entitled “Dear Photograph” highlighting some of these photos.

The project is a modern-day testimony to the power of storytelling — and preserving legacy.  If you’d like to contribute photos, you can do so at http://dearphotograph.com.

UPDATE: Genealogist and family historian Caroline Pointer (www.4yourfamilystory.com) pointed out Dear Photograph’s similarity to another site – HistoryPin.com – which we wrote about last October (“New site allows millions chance to explore the past, share the present). Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Caroline!

Real estate expert: Recording, sharing love of your home can help sell it

We recently came across an article, written by real estate expert Tara-Nicholle Nelson, that we thought really tied into concepts we believe in: legacy and love of home. In her piece written last month, she talks about the importance of sharing the stories that make a house a home, and how that can positively impact the home-selling process. In the past few months, we’ve seen a few articles that touch on the value of knowing a home’s history, such as this one (“Researching your home’s past could pay off” — Chicago Tribune, Feb. 3, 2012).

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A love letter, Tara-Nicholle Nelson explains, expresses the love the seller’s family has had for the home, and explains the facts and events underlying that sentiment.

“As someone who has been inside probably thousands of homes with buyers over the years, I’ve always thought there was one super-simple, vastly underrated marketing technique for homes that are having a hard time standing out from the rest of the market: the seller love letter. A seller love letter is a note, personally written or typed up by the home’s seller. Among other things, it expresses the love the seller’s family has had for the home, and explains the facts and events underlying that sentiment,” she wrote.

She continued: “If the power of staging lies in depersonalizing the property so buyers can picture their own family living out their own lives in the home, the power of a seller love letter is that it leaves buyers with a warm feeling that the home has a positive energy and history, which is especially desirable on today’s distressed property-riddled market.”

To read the full article, please visit her Web site at http://www.rethinkrealestate.com/http:/www.rethinkrealestate.com/6-elements-of-a-compelling-home-seller-love-letter/#

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of “The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook” and “Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions.” Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

We’d love to know your thoughts! Let us know — do you think knowing a home’s story can add value?

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

StoryCorps: Every voice matters

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

This week, we will briefly touch on the idea and importance of preserving stories today for future generations. This is really the heart of what Houstory is all about: recording and preserving those often small, everyday — but very much unique and important — stories that make up our lives. By doing so, you can help ensure your legacy can be shared with those who follow.

While, naturally, we think the Home History Book archival journal is a great way to do this — specifically regarding all the interesting stories that happen at home — it is by no means the only way.

For example, I recently started recording interviews with family members — specifically asking my mom and dad, as well as a few of my married brothers and their wives — to reflect on how they first met and eventually got together. My goal is to eventually put these audio stories  into a nicely produced and edited podcast so the family will always have them on which to look back.

Today, in that style of conversational historical preservation, I wanted to share one of my favorite resources and examples for effectively recording and preserving unique life stories and legacy: StoryCorps. I’m guessing if you are reading my blog, there is a good chance you’ve heard of this group, as it is quite popular.

As its Web site states: “StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 40,000 interviews from nearly 80,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress…We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters. At the same time, we will create an invaluable archive of American voices and wisdom for future generations.”

Yes, it is as fascinating as it sounds. In fact, I met a StoryCorps representative a few months ago in downtown Austin, Texas. She was was travelling around the country in the StoryCorps van, recording people in the different cities she visited. To say I was envious of her was an understatement. But I digress.

If you have not had a chance, head to the StoryCorps Web site and take a listen to a few of the great stories they have catalogued!

We’d love to know your thoughts! Let us know —what are your favorite resources for saving and sharing stories for future generations? Have you ever listened to StoryCorps, or participated with the group?

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

Also please be sure to visit our Web site at www.homehistorybook.com

Bring your home’s history to life using these simple photo tips

By Rick Read — Special to the Houstory Hearth

Occasionally, the Houstory Hearth will feature guest authors who have knowledge and expertise related to the world of Houstory Publishing. This week, we feature Rick Read. Rick has nearly 40 years of experience as an award-winning TV producer. He is also an avid still photographer and genealogist and was, for five years, the research aide for the Whatcom Genealogical Society (Washington state).

One of the great aspects of the Home History Book archival journal is that it encourages you to take note of the changes that occur in your home over time. And what better way to demonstrate those changes than to compare old and recent photos – “then” and “now” photos. You can make the comparison even more dramatic by taking your “now” photo from the exact location at which the “then” photo was snapped. I will refrain from becoming too detailed here.

If you want the details, check out this great Web site.

I am using a “then” photo furnished by Jeff Jewell of the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash. (There’s an interesting story about this photo – I hope to share it with you in the future.) The first thing you’ll want to do with your “then” photo is to scan it and print a large black and white “work print.” This print will become your guide for lining up your “now” photo. Printing in black and white will also help you focus on the details of the photo.

Take a close look at the photo. Note the relationships of features that might still exist today:

  1. How the front left part of the porch exposes the house behind the subject house
  2. How the vertical end of the porch railing (on which the young boy is sitting) lines up with the window behind the rail
  3. How much of the building in the back right of the subject house is exposed

You may find it helpful to draw a grid pattern over your “then” photo. The horizontal and vertical lines can be helpful when lining up your “now” shot. Avoid using relationships to transient items, such as the height or width of a tree. You’ll quickly discover that these relationships will only lead to frustration.  Another thing about vegetation: winter can be a better time for taking “now” photos, as any leaves that block your subject will be gone.

THEN PHOTO — CLICK TO ENLARGE 1995.0001.019938; photo by Jack Carver; courtesy Whatcom Museum

Once you’ve made note of several physical relationships on your “then” picture, you’re ready to take your “now” shot. You will find a tripod especially helpful for this process. It’s tough to hold your camera in one hand and your “then” photo in the other, while trying to get the shot lined up properly. Keep in mind, too, that the position from which the “then” photographer took his photo may have changed. He may have positioned himself on a hill that is long gone, or he may have been standing in what is now the middle of the street. (You might want to take a partner with you to serve as a lookout.)

When you’ve found that “sweet’ spot, click away. Take a few shots, move slightly and take a few more. Continue to refer to your “then” shot, as you make adjustments. You can present your finished photos side by side or as a blended image.

Check these Web sites for more examples:

* Leningrad Seige — Then and Now

* Normandy 1944 — Then and Now

NOW PHOTO — CLICK TO ENLARGE

Whichever display method you choose, you’ll have some great images to add to your Home History Book archival journal and to share with future owners of your home.

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.