Life Preservers Podcast: Episode 4 – Beach Listening


Hooked on podcasts? So are we. We listen at the gym, while travelling, at home, and even relaxing on the beach. For our summer episode of Life Preservers podcast, we’ve chosen 7 off-the-beaten-path podcasts that entertain us, teach us new and useful things, and pique our desire to learn more . Old movies? Ben Franklin? “Hamilton ” as a teenager? Tune in and enjoy. We hope you’ll find a new podcast obsession, and share yours with us!



Attribution This episode contatins excerpts from the following: Plimoth Plantation podcast (iTunes); You Must Remember This ( ; Becoming Wise (; Ben Franklin's World (; Still Buffering (; Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine(; The Bowry Boys: New York City History (

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Brilling and Bedazzled: Creating New Words

By Pam Pacelli Cooper

President, Verissima Productions


My family of origin adores words. We did crossword puzzles, word games, Boggle and Scrabble when I was growing up. I was lucky enough to meet and marry someone who is also a lexophile.


What his family doesn’t do is create words to capture a feeling, an object, or a process where regular words don’t seem to work. I figure if it was OK for Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll (Oh, that “frumious Bandersnatch”), and e.e.cummings, it’s OK for us. We are Neologists.


This custom is proving to be immensely valuable as I talk to my now 90-year- old mother. In some ways, she is as sharp as ever, but her vocabulary is slipping along with her memory. As I try to piece together her personal history, we amble through our conversations, stopping along the way to clarify words and memories that are now quite murky. One day, we were working our way back to 1936 when she made a cross-country trip with her parents, seeking a dry climate for her stepfather, whose mustard-gassed lungs couldn’t take the cold, humid Chicago weather. She stalled when trying to describe the diary her mother had kept of the trip. “I don’t remember the correct sequence,” she said. “ My memory is just not what it was.” Then she paused again. “Just a minute, I think I’ll go into my Remembory and see if I can find it.” And she did.


Her Remembory: I loved it this new word! It brought to mind the famous “Memory Palaces” created by the Ancient Greeks, buildings in their brains that had rooms and shelves and doors in which they organized and stored vast amounts of material.




My own Remembory resembles the stacks in an immense library built in the 19th century. The stacks go up several levels, but there are also basements and subbasements where some of the most arcane and fascinating materials are stored. When I can’t think of something, I imagine myself filling out a slip of paper at the
library and the reference librarian “ sending down to the stacks” to get it. Sometimes it takes awhile, but with patience, it returns.


Do you have a “Remembory,” a place where you go to search for information from the past when you can’t find it in the present? Can you describe it for us?


NOTE: After I wrote this blog, I looked up Remembory on Google and found this from the “Urban Dictionary”: the recall of an almost forgotten memory, leading to a story.

Someone else out there is making up words, too…





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Life Preservers Podcast–Episode 3: An Interview with Francie King

A responsibility not “accepted blithely.” Join us as Francie King of History Keep describes her work with personal history clients, drawing on her years of journalism experience. You’ll also encounter treasured letters, Revolutionary War re-enactors, and a magnificent mother as we enter Part 3 of our journey to find the personal stories of personal historians.



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How We Tell Our Stories


By Pam Pacelli Cooper

President, Verissima Productions


We tell stories with video and audio. In the personal histories we create we hope to capture the successes and happy moments, but also the moments of pain, mistakes, and repair. If future generations see only the “great” moments of their grandparents’ lives, they may be cowed and dispirited, rather than inspired, so we try to encourage our subjects to cover the whole terrain–not with sensational “tell all” moments–but with depth, sensitivity, and a regard for their own  humanity. These are the stories that will be remembered, not as “family myths,” but as guiding stars.


In that spirit, I offer a link to the 2016 graduation speech at Colgate University, delivered by  Dr.  Omid Safi of Duke University, Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and also a columnist for the popular podcast “On Being.”


It’s  long, but so very rich. And, far more than just advice to 21 year-olds, it’s a reminder to us all in this time of discord, about how we might define success. I graduated long ago, but I find these questions stunningly relevant in  my own life.


CLICK HERE to read it (or watch it below) and tell me what you think of it, especially as it relates to how we collect stories–what we ask, what we make forefront, what we push away. And how we tell our own…


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Personal History & Making Choices – Part 3

Personal History and Making Choices - Part 3 by Pam Pacelli Cooper Our first two blogs about making choices  in personal history dealt with awareness and contemplation from: “What is personal history? Never heard of it, “ to “ This sounds interesting, but I want to think more about it.”  Ok, now, you've made it through those first two phases and your relative or your personal history client has thought about it and says they're ready to move forward. Ready to start talking or taping, right?  Not quite. The next step is huge. The  decision has been made to go ahead, but the decision about HOW to proceed has not. As someone who has painted a lot of rooms, I can say that I dislike the spackling and the sanding—I’d rather put the beautiful colors on the wall NOW—but having tried that a few times and ended up with a bumpy, uneven mess, I’ve learned the importance of preparation. If you want want a high-quality personal history, there’s a lot of “spackling” involved.   How can you help in this stage?  1.	Identify supports and obstacles to creating the project. Brainstorm about  how to amortize the supports and overcome the obstacles.  2.	Create a map:  There are many ways to do this, but your map must have a beginning, signposts along the way, and a destination ( the final product).  3.	Keep the larger purpose in mind: Why are you doing this, and for whom? If things get dicey or stall,  visualize the faces of your great grandchildren as they learn about their family, or imagine an historian coming across the World War II letters from your grandfather that you’ve donated to the local historical society.   You’ve made the decision, you’ve got the vision, you’ve made a map. NOW you are ready to take action!  This is the stage most of us are familiar with. It involves setting the steps of our carefully laid plan into motion and adjusting as we need to, always keeping the end in mind.  What has your experience been with these three phases? How did you help move someone through the first two stages to the third stage of being ready for the project? Do you have a system for creating a personal history map that's worked well for you? Share your experiences in the comments section!

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Life Preservers Podcast – Episode 2: An interview with Leah Abrahams

What do Georges Briard, Gertrude Stein, and a Lutheran fraternal organization have in common? Find out when you listen to our interview with Leah Broyde Abrahams, personal historian. As a subject in our series on getting to know personal historians, Leah describes the path she took to become one, what she has learned, and some insights on why creating a correspondence with the future is so important.


Life Preservers

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Personal History & Making Choices – Part 2

Making Choices in Personal History Part 2: Contemplation  How do you decide to embark on a personal history? In our last blog, we began to explore the stages of decision-making, based on the work of James Prochaska and his colleagues in their ground-breaking research on lasting change and how it happens.  Today, we’re going to discuss the second stage of change.  Contemplation: “Hmmmm…”  In pre-contemplation, we introduced the idea of presenting information that was previously unknown: that there is such a thing as a personal history and that it will have lasting value in the lives of individuals, families, and communities. This is the “awareness” stage, a move from ignorance to knowledge. We encouraged the “educator,” to share information freely and then step back to allow it to percolate, rather than trying to rush decision-making and action.   Now suppose you haven’t talked with them for a couple of months. It’s perfectly fine to check in and ask them and ask if they’ve thought any more about it (being aware of the personality of the person you’re contacting). At this point, if they say either, “I’m thinking about what it might mean to do something like this, but I need to take some more time to make any decision, or, “I hadn’t thought about it but, now that you remind me, I’d like to think further about this. “This is the signal that he/she is in the “Contemplation” stage.  What are the indicators: 1.	Consideration of the possibilities without any action steps being  involved; Their Sitting on a fence where previously no fence existed; 2.	No immediate time frame being discussed. ‘I’m aware that this is something that has benefited others and might be of benefit to me, but I’m not ready to jump in just yet.”  How can you be helpful in this stage? 1.	Validate their decision-making process: “I understand that you want to think about this some more. That’s great. It’s a big step. You want to make sure that if you do this, it feels solid. “ 2.	Clarify and discuss: Help them understand the pros and cons of doing a personal history (e.g., the pro of having something for my siblings, great grandchildren, community; the con of how much it would cost, the time it would take, I don’t feel like I’d have anything to say, etc.) 3.	Illustrate the value of contemplation: Just carefully weighing the options will deepen their understanding of their process and help them achieve resolution.

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Making Choices & Personal History

1) name the steps in the change process; 2) relate them to the stages people go through in deciding to preserve life stories; and 3) give hints about how to recognize and work through each stage.   Stage One: Pre-Contemplation…”What Are You Talking About?”  Our culture is awash in storytelling and life preservation, from Story Corps -- to the Humans of New York Facebook page -- to the huge Roots Tech genealogy convention. Yet when someone’s son says, “Maybe we ought to tell the story of our family?” or a member of the local historical society says, “Maybe we ought to digitize those oral histories that are stored on crumbling paper in the back room…” a person may often say, “Our story is not very interesting,” or “We don’t have the money to digitize those records,” or “I don’t have the time.”  This is what is called the Pre-Contemplation Stage.  In the Pre-Contemplation Stage everyone can see that there is a need but the person with the need can’t see it, or doesn’t think it applies to them. How do you help people move out of this stage?  Raise Consciousness, Educate, Inform!  Since you are reading this blog, you are most likely not in pre-contemplation, but you probably know someone who is -- a family member, a business associate, a friend, maybe even the Board member of your local historical society.    Here are some steps you can take to raise awareness  DO:  1.	Cite facts: List the variety of benefits derived from preserving their life histories. (Most people in pre-contemplation have never even considered them as personally relevant.)  2.	Share the positive changes that came into your own life as a result of creating a personal history. You can also listen to our current podcast to hear how one Personal Historian’s life changed as a result of her family journey. …or watch an episode of Henry Louis Gates’ show, “Finding Your Roots.”  3.	Point out some of the consequences of failing to preserve lives, e.g., “I wish I knew what mom thought about my dad’s years in the CIA,” or “I’ll never be able to find out more about mom’s time as a missionary in Laos,” or “I think those are my great uncles, but grandma is dead and there’s no legend on the back of the photo.”  DON’T  1.	…try to move the person along too fast. You are not trying to get the person to act at this stage—they are not ready-- you are helping to raise their awareness.  2.	…be discouraged if it takes a while…even if you feel an urgency, the desire to proceed needs to come from within. If it doesn’t it won’t sustain and the project will never start or it will feel like it’s your project, instead of theirs.   Are you a professional personal historian? This may help you understand why we often experience such long lead times between the first contact and the initiation of a project. Do you know someone who would benefit from doing a Personal History? Learning the stages involved in choosing and changing may provide insight into the complexity of the process.   Look around you this week. How many people do you see who are still in the pre-contemplation stage of doing a personal history? Please share what you discover with us.  Next Week: Stage 2: Contemplation: “Hmmm….”

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Life Preservers Podcast: Episode 1 – An Interview with Marcia Orland

Welcome to  the first episode of our new podcast! Each episode of Life Preservers: A Personal History Podcast  will feature interviews designed to help you think about personal history–what it is, how to do it, why to do it, and how personal histories create a correspondence with the future. In addition to the interviews, we’ll point you in the direction of blogs, books, and videos, tips and tricks that will guide you on the journey of creating and preserving your legacy and the legacies of people you love.


Many thanks to our first interview subject, the talented and adventurous Marcia Orland, for taking the time to tell us about her work and her path to preserving her own family history. Marcia is a professional personal video historian and owner of Afterglow Media based in Carpenteria, CA.

CLICK to hear Episode 1

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Stumbling into Paradise: The Sacred Space

Stumbling Into Paradise A Personal History Short By Pam Pacelli Cooper President, Verissima Productions  I don’t love freeways. And we were tired after a month of exacting work. So I asked Rob, my husband and partner, if we could exit the California 101 and travel on a smaller, “blue” highway near Summerland.  We pulled off and drove for a few miles before we saw what looked like the lot for an old gas station or shack, but instead of an entrance to a 711 we saw two gorgeous Indian statues. We had a mission and almost kept driving, but Rob said, “Did you see what I saw back there? Let’s go back and look.”  I had seen it, but had been too schedule-bound to suggest we stop.  Thanks to him, we stumbled into Paradise.  The lovely entryway was only the beginning of our journey into a world of calm and healing just off the highway. The Sacred Space is deceptively small from the outside, but, once you enter, you come upon a warren of rooms, all tastefully furnished with artifacts from the East—jewelry, Buddhas, books, cards, and a dazzling array of minerals. The staff immediately offers water or tea. There is no pressure to buy and no overt religious message other than the message to relax and enjoy.  We meandered through the many rooms, admiring the beauty and thinking we were done. Then, we looked through a doorway and found the gardens. Completely hidden from the road are two separate sets of gardens, with private and elegant places to sit and relax tucked away at several different levels, a pond, a small stream, miniature bridges and more statues. It is as if you were transported to a forest refuge in Thailand or India.  After two hours we left, refreshed and grateful.  I know, I know, some people have said, “Oh, it’s so California,” meaning that comment not entirely kindly. But…it is more than that. It was a journey into other lands and another mindset, and all because we decided to stop and look inside.  Question:  What special places have you discovered that have brought you into another, expanded sense of your world?  Tip: If you’re anything like me, and love the side roads, you owe it to yourself to read William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways a classic of slow travel.   See more about the Sacred Space including the story behind it: **Interested in reading Blue Highways? CLICK HERE to get a copy.

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