NPR’s Planet Money: ‘Stuff’ has a story

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory

Despite the rain, cold and touch of snow that have set up shop in my community of Eugene, Oregon over the past month, I still enjoy a good bike ride. It was on one of these recent treks, zipping along a trail that shadows the snow-fed waters of the Willamette River, that I heard an fascinating story on National Public Radio’s Planet Money.

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Now, I’m the first to admit that the show’s major topic — the economy — is not typically something I’m interested in. Investments, taxes, mortgages…these are all a great big “yuck” in my book. However, the program has turned these seemingly mundane subjects into ear candy by revealing the hidden stories within the stories. In a lot of ways, I think of it like Freakonomics for your ears.

And like any good storyteller, they put a digestible (human) spin on complex issues. The program segment that recently grabbed my attention was a piece about the manufacturing of a T-shirt. Interestingly, the story protagonist was the T-Shirt itself: Planet Money ordered two sets of the shirt adorned with the show’s logo, and followed the garment’s creation from start (cotton fields in the southern United States) to production (factories in Columbia and Bangladesh) to finish (the customer). One shirt was made for men, the other for women.

Preserve, conserve, #nomorestuff

 

The story is laden with on-the-scene anecdotes, and peppered with astonishing facts, including:

* 13,000 bales of cotton is the equivalent of 9.4 million T-shirts.

* There are 6 miles of yarn in a single Planet Money T-shirt

* The workers who made the Planet Money T-shirt in Bangladesh were making about $80 a month

* 32 people make about 80 shirts per hour in Bangladesh. One sewing line in Colombia had eight people and made about 140 T-shirts per hour.

These facts, coupled with personal, insightful interviews with folks who work the production lines, provided a reminder that essentially everything we own has a creation story that includes actual human beings. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s way too easy to forget that.

What does this have to do with Houstory, The Home History Book archival journal and The Heirloom Registry? Well, nothing and everything.

The nothing is pretty obvious, so we’ll skip that.

Now, onto the everything. This month, as part of its  “No More Stuff/Preserve. Conserve” campaign, Houstory is asking you to slow down, and truly consider what you buy during this season of consumption and giving because not all products are created — or valued — equally.

As this story suggests, product manufacturing is a complicated business. Good (job creation, increased economic opportunities) combines with bad (environmental degradation, unsafe working conditions) more often than not.

I am not proposing that all consumption is bad, or that consumers should dump all that modern life offers and live in a Hobbit Hole. What I’m saying is that this complicated relationship should, at the very least, make us pause before we simply make a purchase online or at the store.

Well, enough about Hobbit Holes and T-shirts. Check out the Planet Money show, and let us know what you think!

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!

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.

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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.

houstory, heirloom registry, home history book, shopping, holidays

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.

Saving legacies: How to document the stories behind your family heirlooms

Last month, Houstory® Publishing, creator of the The Heirloom Registry™,  was an exhibitor at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree.

While there, we were fortunate to meet lots of folks who were passionate about the importance — and joy — of discovering, preserving and sharing family stories. Additionally, after reading their blogs and listening to their podcasts, it was fun to meet genealogy “powerhouses” such as Thomas MacEntee, Lisa Louise Cooke, Caroline Pointer, Drew Smith and George G. Morgan, among others.

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Another name on that list is Denise May Levenick, also known as The Family Curator. We met Denise while behind our booth at the show, and we’re glad we did!

Denise is a writer, researcher, and speaker with a passion for preserving and sharing family treasures of all kinds. She is the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes (Family Tree Books, 2012) and creator of The Family Curator blog, voted one of the 40 Best Genealogy Blogs in 2010 and 2011 by readers of Family Tree Magazine.

Recently, she penned a fantastic article for Family Tree Magazine — where she is a frequent contributor — about keeping family heirlooms’ legacies from getting lost by documenting the stories of their pasts. Obviously, as creators of The Heirloom Registry™, this idea resonated deeply.

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In the piece, she gives simple, clear steps on how to do this — and even provides an example of what a finished provenance, or heirloom history, might look like. She calls these stories, “Treasure Tales.”

“Unlike letters or documents with names, dates and places, family artifacts are often left unlabeled and their histories get lost,” Denise wrote. “Without a past, that treasure and its untold history may be tossed out. Time you spend today to identify and record the history of your treasures will give them a better chance to survive into tomorrow.”

Obviously, if you have a passion for historical preservation, the power of story and conservation, we encourage you to follow The Family Curator. She may help you — and future generations in your family — view your precious belongings as far more than just “stuff.”

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