Currently browsing tag

writing a memoir

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. 

Travel Memoir – Hike in the Cotswolds, Part 2

dsc_0022That afternoon we explored the charming town and photographed its hand-hewn stone houses, some covered with climbing roses and others with thatched roofs perched like well-coifed wigs.  We ate the first of many pub dinners together that evening at the Eight Bells Inn, savoring fish and chips or bangers and mash.  Then we retired early to our private rooms at the 300-year-old Noel Arms Inn to rest up for our eight-day walk to Bath. 

The next morning, after a full English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, kippers and dry toast, we left our bags in the hotel lobby for a taxi pickup, strapped on our little daypacks filled with water and rain gear, and headed across the street to the arched 18th century market hall that stands at the beginning of the Cotswold Way.   We posed for a photo there together and then started off down the street in high spirits.

At the edge of town, we found the first wooden trail marker with a distinctive acorn carved on its face.  A small arrow on the post, labeled “Cotswold Way” pointed toward a broad hill.  For the next eight days, we looked for those markers at every juncture where the way crossed a local footpath or road.   While the markers were well placed along the trail, sometimes they were swallowed by tall wild flowers, so we had to refer to the maps Andrew had given us to be sure of our route.

For the first five miles we walked together, three or four abreast, watching our steps as we passed through rich farmland dotted with sheep.  We stopped often to take photos of panoramic vistas and to listen to the insistent bleating of baby lambs.  Together, we learned how to scramble over stiles and negotiate “kissing-gates” one at a time to gain access to the trail that wove through walled private fields. 

Around noon we spotted the Broadway Tower, a five-story turreted structure that sat atop Beacon Hill.   Known as a “folly,” the medieval-looking tower was actually built as a viewing platform in the 18th century.  Two couples from our group decided to climb the tower to overlook the countryside and see historical museum inside.   The other four couples, stomachs grumbling, decided to skip the tower and push on to The Swan pub for lunch in the town of Broadway, which marked the half-way point of our 10-mile walk for that day.  After dining on salads or fish and chips, we carried on for five more miles to the pretty little town of Stanton, where we would spend the night. 

As we settled into our private room in the 17th century stone-block home that once served as Stanton’s post house, my husband’s cell phone rang. 

“We’re lost,” said a man with an American accent.

“Oh dear,” Tom said, recognizing Ron’s voice.  “What do you see around you?”

“There’s a long stone wall with an iron gate and a pasture full of sheep.  Any idea where we are?”

Ron’s plaintive wail became a running gag throughout the trip, as we strolled through countless walled pastures with sheep.  The tower climbers eventually made it to their B & B in Stanton and joined us for a superb dinner at the town’s Mount Inn, which is said to be a favorite dining spot of Paul McCartney and his daughter who lives nearby.  A pony-sized dog lay in the doorway like a rolled up rug, but the bill of fare offered a sophisticated menu of fresh haddock, sirloin steak and locally sourced vegetables.  Best of all, the English ales were cold.  After dinner some of us sat out on the restaurant’s hillside patio with a cold one and watched a sunset that turned the sky the color of amber stout. 

Read more of Kay’s travel memoir about a 70-mile walk through the Cotswolds in her next blog, January 1, 2017.

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.

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 Grandmother’s Dramatic Story

IMG_1947My husband, Tom Sanger, has recently written a fascinating book about the SS Athenia, a passenger liner that was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat on the first day of World War II. His inspiration for writing the book was his grandmother, Rhoda Thomas. She was on that ship on the evening of September 3, 1939, when the torpedo struck and she survived to be reunited with her family several weeks later in New York. She wrote an account of the ordeal that stirred Tom’s interest in writing about it.
(more…)

Grandparents

picAs we continue through this year of writing about our families, I hope you have been inspired to write some insightful and entertaining stories about your parents. In this blog space, I have reviewed books written about mothers and fathers and have suggested a number of ways for you to approach writing about them.

Now it’s time to move on – to the subject of grandparents. Writing their stories may be more difficult than writing about your parents. Fewer and fewer of us have lived near our grandparents or seen them on a regular basis. Sadly, by the time we are truly interested in their lives, they may already have passed on.
(more…)

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:
(more…)

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.
(more…)

ARE YOU AT THE CENTER OF YOUR UNIVERSE?

Los Angeles, USDid you ever notice what directional adverbs people use to refer to places on earth? The words usually reveal the speakers egocentric and cultural view of the world. Take those of us who live in Southern California, for example. We don’t say we’re flying east or to the Midwest. We talk about going BACK east, or BACK to the Midwest, as though we are not just traveling east, but traveling back in time to a past we left behind, which some of us did.

But when we travel to places that are east of here but a bit closer to California, we use the word OVER, as in, “We’re going OVER to Las Vegas for the weekend.” We would never imagine going BACK to Las Vegas. Maybe no one comes from there.
(more…)

Travel Memoirs: Create Memory Books with Stories and Photos

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to London and Paris with our 11-year-old granddaughter. We decided to take her while she still might want to travel with us old folks and before the company of friends, especially boys, would be more preferable. Our intention was to introduce her to a world of art, history and ideas and to expose her to the notion that there is much to learn about and appreciate beyond the Denver suburb where she lives. The key to our success would be to create a lasting memory, which I will discuss at the end of this blog.

We decided to spend five days in London and five days in Paris, with a ride between the two cities via the Chunnel on the Eurostar Train. I planned an ambitious schedule packed with (more…)