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Travel Memoir – Hike in the Cotswolds, Part 3

The trail offered new surprises each day as we traversed its roller-coaster hills.   Sometimes we walked in single file along a narrow path through deep forests that were carpeted with white wood anemone and blue bells.  Other times we hiked in pairs as we passed through fields alive with the breathtaking color of yellow canola flowers or red poppies.  One sweet-smelling field of buttercups spread so invitingly to the horizon, some of us felt the call to lie down in it, ignoring small insects that zigzagged among the blossoms.  We lay on that fragrant bed for a while and watched white clouds gambol like fluffy sheep above us in the azure sky. 

One day we came upon the arched ruins of Haile’s Abbey, built in the 12th century.  The abbey’s once bustling cloisters were burned in 1539 when Henry VIII dissolved England’s Catholic churches and monasteries so he could divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. 

Another day we took a brief break from the trail to spend two hours at the historic Sudeley Castle, where Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII lived out her life.  There we learned the sing-song device that every English school-child knows for remembering what happened to Henry’s six wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.  Katherine was the last survivor of Henry’s fabled involvements and she is buried in an ornate tomb at the 16th century St. Mary’s Church next to the castle.

Occasionally we came across 2,500–year-old hill forts, their circular, grass-covered walls still standing to protect interior spaces now inhabited by sheep.  One of these Iron-age forts surrounded a golf course where players have carefully chipped and putted around the fortifications for 100 years.  The trail led us between the ancient walls and manicured greens where we chatted with friendly golfers who insisted we eat lunch at their golf club, rather than wait to dine in the town of Painswick, which awaited us an hour’s walk away.    

For seven days, we walked under sunny skies until the last hour of the last day, when dark clouds quickly moved in and produced large rain drops.  While we hastily pulled rain pants and waterproof jackets out of our daypacks and struggled to put them on, a bevy of sheep nearby stopped munching on grass to watch us like curious children.

“Great!”  Tom said, squinting up at the spitting clouds.  “This rain justifies the expense and bother of buying and carrying this rain-gear all week.” 

Our long-anticipated walk through the Cotswolds ended a few miles later at the aptly named Folly End Farm in Cold Ashton, about ten miles north of Bath.  There we dried off and enjoyed a cream-tea lunch, feeling both sad that it was over and elated that we had completed the hike without blisters or sprains.   After lunch we called a taxi and rode the last few miles into Bath along the wet and busy A46 highway.   

We spent two nights in Bath at the formal, French inspired Villa Magdala, a welcome step up in grandeur from the small-town pub hotels that had seemed appropriate while we were on the trail.   Some of us made a bee-line for the Thermae Bath Spa, for a warm soak and gentle massage, while the rest of us took a guided walking tour of Bath in the rain.  We visited the ancient Roman baths, lunched next door at the Pump Room and ogled the city’s columned Georgian buildings such as the Royal Crescent, now home to movie stars, authors and royalty.

Our tour ended at the recently restored Bath Abbey, one of England’s most magnificent churches, built during the reign of Elizabeth 1.   On the pavement in front of the Abbey is a stone circle that marks the end (and beginning) of the Cotswold Way.  Like pilgrims of old, we gathered in front of the church and gave thanks for our extraordinary walk through 70 miles of historic English countryside to celebrate our own short history of walking on this earth for 70 years. 

Write about People you Meet

DSC_0003People you meet while traveling make your experiences memorable. A conversation with a Frenchman at a Paris café or a Maasai dancer in Kenya will be the event you remember most from a trip. That conversation is the memory you will find yourself repeating to others when you return home.
So when you write about your travels, add those special person-to-person encounters to your account of what you saw and did. Take the time to make the people you met come alive again as you tell your story. Here are some techniques you can use:

  • Describe people physically
    What did the person you met look like? – Tall? Dark hair? Middle-aged? Wrinkles? Smile? Write down what your remember about the person’s demeanor and dress. How did the person move or talk? Rather than give a descriptive list of physical characteristics, describe the person in the context of telling the story.
  • Recreate the dialogue
    It’s OK to recreate a conversation even though you don’t remember the exact words, as long as you stick to the essence and intent of the words spoken. Write a dialogue of your conversation as you remember it, using quotation marks, going back and forth between the two of you.
  • Show how the interaction made you feel
    What did you learn about yourself from talking with this person? Did you feel a kinship even though you came from different backgrounds? Were there humorous misunderstandings due to language and cultural differences? Did you share a laugh?
    Here is an example from my travel memoir, of meeting a woman who became my friend, on my first trip to Easter Island:

A large woman made her way toward me through the crowd, her wavy black hair and pink- flowered, Tahitian-styled parieu flowing behind her. She had apparently spotted me as the foreign student who was to stay at her pension, with my blonde hair, UCLA tee shirt and blue jeans.

Ola, tu eras Kay? Habla Espanol?” The woman, (Lucia), wanted to know if I was Kay and if I spoke Spanish.

Si. Poquito,” I stammered, trying to recall the phrases I needed from my college Spanish I class.

Donde esta su equipaque?

Where is my luggage? I looked over at the bags lined up on the concrete floor of the small thatch-roofed airport. Mine wasn’t there, yet I had personally placed my tagged bag on the luggage conveyer belt in Tahiti.

Seeing the distress on my face, Lucia marched me over to Juan, the airport’s baggage handler, who happened to be her cousin. She pointed at the huge jet sitting alone on the runway and told Juan that I needed to check the baggage in the hold of the plane to make sure mine wasn’t still there. The plane was to leave for Santiago, Chile in less than an hour.

No, no,” Juan said, his eyes wide and hands gesturing in the air. “No es posible.

Si, si,” Lucia brushed past him and signaled me to come with her. I followed her pink dress across the runway to the tall metal stair-step ladder that still leaned against the open door of the baggage compartment in the bowels of the big plane.

Ariba,” she said to me, pointing the way up the stairs.

I knew that the next plane from Tahiti wouldn’t arrive for one more week and I thought about going without my clothes and toiletries for that long on an isolated island with a few tourist shops. I looked at Lucia, her legs planted wide and arms pointing up to the plane. Her certainty gave me courage. I took a deep breath and bounded up the stairs, two at a time, aware that Juan was on my heels, protesting in a frantic voice…

Kay Sanger is the author of several travel guidebooks and most recently, Easter Island: The Essential Guide, published by The Easter Island Foundation. Find it on Amazon or at www.islandheritage.org

How a Trip Journal Can Help You Write a Travel Memoir

IMG_8351Many of us keep a journal when we travel. At the end of each day, we try to jot down where we went and what we saw, recording names of the places we visited and new information we learned. We tend to write about what impressed us most, but we don’t often say why.

Back home when we want to write about the trip in more depth, we turn to our journals and often are disappointed. Our notes are sketchy. Memories have faded.

How can you write about what you felt when you saw the Taj Mahal for the first time if you neglected to record your original, raw emotions? How can you describe the interior of the Palace of Versailles and its effect on you if you didn’t take detailed notes?

To improve your travel memoirs in the future, think about taking more time to record your experiences in your trip diary when they are fresh. Here are three suggestions to think about as you write your notes each day:

1. Write detailed descriptions of the places that really impressed you. Even if you only write in phrases, capture the specific characteristics as you remember them including the sights, smells and sounds.

For a castle in Portugal, I jotted down such items as: “stone brick façade inlaid with green, pink and yellow tiles; deep bell chimes each hour; mosaic ceilings made of stones, shells and tiles; second-story cobblestone porch with view to the sea and smells from the sea carried by breeze; six-foot-long bathtub in fully tiled bathroom.” These details later helped me describe the incredible castle and the eccentric king who built it, making the story of my travels there more compelling.

2. Write about how you felt when you were there. What were your emotions? Later, when you are home and writing your memoir, you can tap into those emotions and perhaps see more clearly how they may have changed and inspired you. Travel is about more than just where you went and what you did. There is an inner, parallel journey going on too, and that is the most valuable aspect of travel.

I recently walked the last 70 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with six friends, all of us around 70 years old. Along the trail I spent some time meditating about how the trail was a metaphor of life, with its ups and downs, never revealing what lies on the other side of the hill.

As I walked, I felt the wonder of traversing the same worn path where thousands have passed since the 11th century. I thought about the last years of my life and how I want to approach them with courage and grace. The swinging of the huge incense burner at the Santiago de Compostella cathedral at the end of the walk made me gasp and choke back tears as I realized the symbolism of the smoke carrying my aspirations to the heavens.

3. Write about the people you met who influenced or impressed you. What did you discuss? What did you learn? After you return home, you may see these personal encounters as the most enriching events of your trip.

During my walk on the Camino, I met people who told me about their lives. One woman talked about the two children in Ethiopia she was sponsoring by sending money for clothing, school and food. A man from Guatemala described the orphanage he ran there. A Swedish woman shared how she worked to save the elephants at a reserve in Botswana. After a while, their stories ran together in my mind. I’m happy I wrote down the details soon after our encounters.

The next time you travel, take along that trip journal and write in it each night, but take more time to think about the details, emotions and insights that can turn your jottings into a meaningful memoir of your travels.

Give the Gift of Family Stories

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In my first blog this year (January 1, 2015), I made a commitment to create an illustrated book about my parents and grandparents that I would give to my children and other family members for Christmas. In my blogs throughout this year, I have shared ideas for creating this family memoir. Some of you have written to tell me you are creating books of your own following these ideas.

My blogs this year have suggested ways to interview living relatives, write authentic family stories, conduct genealogical research, identify important memorabilia, sort through old photos and write captions.

Now it’s time to create a book filled with these items to give to family members for the holidays. In my last blog (Nov. 1), I suggested a layout for the book. It starts with a genealogical family tree that shows your relationship to the relatives you feature in your book. Then I proposed gathering the following items for each family member’s chapter: a timeline of important life events, stories you have recalled and written about that person, followed by certificates, awards and photos (with captions) from various stages of the person’s life.

Following are a few ideas for printing your book:

  • Create multiple, identical scrapbooks with photos and typed or handwritten text. You will need to make copies of all the pictures and text pages so you can create these books. Purchase good quality scrapbook albums with acid-free plastic sleeves to protect the photos and copied text pages.
  • Create one book and have it copied at a shop like Kinkos or Staples. You will need to lay-out the pages of the book and design a cover. Have the copy shop print your cover image on thick paper stock and copy the book’s text and photos on fine-grained paper. Have them bind the book with a spiral binding.
  • Create a hard-cover book using an online book-builder program. Find free downloadable software for a book from one of the many companies that offer these programs, such as: www.MyPublisher.com, www.blurb.com, www.shutterfly.com or www.costcophotocenter.com. All of these programs offer four-color printing, a creative choice of layouts and a variety of book sizes, with professional (perfect) binding and several hard-cover options. The software is easy to use. Try to complete your online book as soon as possible to avoid the Christmas rush. If you do it soon enough, you should receive the books by mail approximately one week after you submit the finished design.
  • Prepare your book with a computer layout and design program such as Microsoft’s Publisher or Apple’s Pages. Then, either print the designed pages of the book and put them in a three-ring notebook or copy the book onto a disk that family members can read on an iPad or other tablet computer. You can share the book easily using email or through social media, such as Facebook. This may appeal most to the younger generations, as the creators of the comic, Crankshaft, have noted.

I hope you are motivated as I am to finally complete a family history memoir. Remember, you are the only person who can pass along this information and if you don’t, it may be lost to future generations. Don’t put your incomplete manuscript pages on the shelf where they may not be discovered or valued. Create a finished book now that will be a treasure for generations to enjoy. This could be the most important and remembered present you give to your family.

Connect with Family History

photoHow are you coming with your book about your family? I started in January with the goal of writing a book about my parents and grandparents in one year. I busily researched each one and wrote time-lines of the important events in their lives (see my blog 6-15-15). I visited the places where some of them lived; Minnesota, Indiana and Sweden (see blog 9-1-15).

Now I want to write about their lives, to make them real – more than just names and old photos. I want to help my grown children and grandchildren relate to the lives lived by their ancestors. Where to start?

  1. The first step is to make a list of the stories I remember or that I have learned from my research about each of my parents, my four grandparents and some of my great-grandparents. My sister has researched our family tree and has extended it back several centuries. Her 15-year project is an incredibly valuable addition to our knowledge and appreciation of the family. So now the names and the dates are confirmed, but the accomplishments and experiences of most of these ancestors have been lost in time. I know that if I don’t write about the lives of the family members I do know about, their life stories will be lost too. I am starting with a list of what I know.
  2. Next, I plan to write as much as I can about each of the story topics in my list. My stories may be short – just a few paragraphs, or several pages. I will add photos to the stories when possible and if not, I will find illustrations on the internet. For example, I found a drawing of a horse and buggy from the 1880s to illustrate a story about how my maternal grandparents from different European countries met at a train station in North Dakota (my grandfather offered a ride to a young woman who stepped off a train and later became my grandmother). A photo of a telegraph machine will accompany a story of my paternal grandfather’s successful career as a railroad telegrapher back when telegraphy was cutting-edge technology. These stories will be the core of my book. They will give flesh to some of the many names on my family tree.
  3. In addition, I will plan some activities to help my children and grandchildren connect with their ancestors, and then I will write about those. Janet Hovorka has created a delightful website to help grandparents with the clever title: “Zap the Grandma Gap” https://zapthegrandmagap.com She suggests that if we have a greater awareness of the traits that helped our ancestors navigate life successfully, we will be inspired and empowered to use the traits that have been handed down to us. In other words, knowing you come from a long line of good cooks or good writers or good athletes can give you confidence to succeed at those things yourself.

Hovorka presents a variety of ways to connect grandchildren with the family’s past. One of her many ideas that I have used with my granddaughters involved introducing them to my mother and grandmother through their possessions that I now have, such as their dishes. My grandchildren will inherit them someday, so I decided to use them to build memories with me now. When the “Grandgirls” visited us last summer, I planned a tea party with those Depressions-ware blue plates and we talked about how my grandfather bought them as a surprise for my mother at a time in history when they and other people had little money. I wrote this story for my book and illustrated it with a photo of the girls using their great-grandmother’s dishes.

A Sense of Place

DSC06861-1Last month my husband and I took a driving trip through the Midwest in search of my family history. Before we left, we had researched genealogy records to find the names of towns and churches where the census records say my relatives lived. We had obtained birth, baptism, marriage and death records to help pinpoint their exact locations.
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New Ways To Write About Your Mother

photoThe day after Mother’s Day, I led my book group in a discussion of the New York Times bestseller, Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan. It’s a memoir about Corrigan’s experience as a nanny to two children in Australia who had recently lost their mother to cancer. While the author served as a surrogate mother to the children, she heard her mother’s voice in her brain, giving practical advice and admonitions as she had when Kelly was a child. Over time, Corrigan grew to appreciate her mother and began to contemplate the universal mother-daughter relationship. Readers of the book inevitably reflect on their own experiences with their mothers.
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Learn from Authors — How to Write about Dad

In my last blog, I suggested that a good way to learn how to write about your father is to read what other authors have written about their dads. How do other writers make their fathers come alive on the page? What can you learn about how to authentically describe your relationship with your father?
Here are four bestselling Dad Memoirs to give you inspiration:
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DAD – How to write his story

IMG_4382If you are like me, you have lots of memories of your dad, yet you haven’t taken the time to write them down. You may have general memories, but don’t know where to start to describe the kind of man he is or was, and the lasting impression he has left on you.
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Day of the Dead – an Inspiration for Memoir Writers

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Day of the Dead celebration, Easter Island (Chile)

The end of October brings every child’s favorite holiday, filled not only with candy, but also with ghosts, goblins and skeletons. Halloween is a way of sweetening the fear and mocking the scariness of death.
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