Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Cherry Blossom Memories moves to a new website

Hello to my followers and new visitors. Today I have officially moved the Cherry Blossom Memories blog to the new Moonbridge Publications website, for one-stop shopping, so to speak. I hope you click on over and follow me there to get inspiration for writing your own life story or that of others. See ya there!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas traditions, and who will make the eggnog cookies

Sitting here nibbling eggnog butter cookies and sipping lactose-free eggnog, I’m thinking about Christmas traditions. I talk a lot about family traditions, but this year I’m wondering about my own family traditions. The girls are so big now, the oldest in her fourth year of college in another state, the youngest in first year high school. Nobody was too interested in helping get the live Christmas tree, although they wouldn’t let me get the Charlie Brown tree at Walgreens. Nobody wanted to decorate the tree so it sat naked for a week before I put lights on it. I decorated it a few days before Christmas with only a half box out of the three boxes of ornaments we have while keeping an eye on the Mizzou-Illini basketball game (Illinois put up a good fight!). No garland, no lit star on top. The kids were happy (although I was asked to fetch the star), the husband said he appreciated it. Me, I feel like the Little Red Hen who gets no help making bread but everybody wants to eat it. What happened to us?

In the good ‘ol days, when the girls were little, they loved to help bake and decorate cookies, they insisted on a live tree and helped pick it out and decorate it. Then they got older. This year the youngest had to study for finals and is too busy with her social life, and the oldest is worn out from studying for exams and just wants to sleep a lot and see her hometown friends when she's awake. We’re in a mid-life crisis of sorts, and it doesn’t help that I’m a little worn out from doing some big home maintenance projects and the husband had to deal with some issues at work.

I'm not worried about the Christmas tree problem, but I’m here at the computer, eggnog cookie in hand, wondering if my kids will grow up to make these cookies like their mother and grandmother did. I don’t think they have ever been that fond of the cookies, but using the cookie cutters and decorating with colored sugars and silver dragees sure was fun. When I was little I thought the same. As an adult who doesn’t like too-sweet treats, I now love those cookies and the memories they bring of my mother rolling and cutting and my sister and I sprinkling sugars.

I hope the kids come to appreciate eggnog cookies and continue the tradition of making them for Christmas when they are grown and living on their own. When I am old and gray (older and grayer) and no longer strong enough to stir the thick dough, I will expect to receive a plate of those cookies. And some rumballs, please.

And now, it's time to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, which the kids don't appreciate either.

PS: Eggnog butter cookie dough has no raw eggs in it, therefore is fine (and delicious) to eat raw.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Breaking the Code: A father-daughter memoir of WWII

Karen Fisher-Alaniz discovered a secret. On her father’s 81st birthday, he handed her a stack of letters he had written to his parents when he served in WWII. She had heard some old war stories, but they didn’t explain why he was suffering nightmares and flashbacks. He had a safe desk job during the War, and that was all, or was it?

Karen’s book, Breaking the Code: A Father’s Secret, A Daughter’s Journey, and the Question That Changed Everything, was just released by Sourcebooks, a large independent publishing house. It is beautifully done with personal photos and scans of letters and documents. I felt I was alongside Karen as she undertook this difficult journey of discovery with someone who did not want to talk about his past. Karen is in the midst of a flurry of publicity, so I’m fortunate she was able to answer a few questions for me.

Karen, your dad began to suffer from PTSD only after the September 11 tragedy. Is this what triggered you to dig for more of his WWII experiences?

Yes. It was about six months after 9/11 when he put two notebooks full of letters he’d written during the War on my lap. I do believe that our nation’s tragedy was a trigger, but nothing was said at the time. It’s only in looking back that my mother and I have wondered about it. And then the nightmares and terrible flashbacks began. I just wanted to help him – that’s how it began; a daughter trying to help her father.

When you retired from your teaching career, you had time to sit with your dad more and go out for breakfasts with him, trying to work through the PTSD. He didn’t want to talk about his war experiences. How did you break through the barrier?

Time. Lots and lots of time. It’s funny that as my dad was slowly telling me the stories, I was simultaneously trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I really loved my teaching job. I’d taught special education for 14 years. If it weren’t for health problems, I’d still be there. I was devastated when I had to leave “my kids.” I’ve heard that if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans. And that’s what this was like. Looking back now, I think it’s funny that I didn’t see that I was already on the path to doing something that would begin a new chapter in my life – writing.

Anyone who has a loved one with post-traumatic stress disorder knows the tightrope you walk. I felt like talking about his experiences would help him, but at the same time, sometimes it would kick up memories that would be triggers to nightmares and flashbacks. So, I had to learn when to back off and when to push. I don’t think you can ever get that one completely right.

What made you decide to write a book, and did you know from the start you wanted it to be for the public, not just your family? And what did your dad think about you writing this book about his life for everyone to see?

In the beginning, I was simply going to transcribe the letters. There were 400 pages of them and they were hard to read. I just wanted to type them up. But as I read his story, through the letters, I had questions. Those questions lead to me finally hearing the true story of my father’s experiences during the War.

It was such a slow process that it didn’t really feel like there was a time that I said, “Aha! I am going to write a book!” Dad was just going with the flow. I started to write down the story that wasn’t in the letters, the story between the lines. Dad is kind of still just going with the flow. When the book was finally about to come out, he said he was going to find a rock to crawl under.

I know you had a dilemma about how to write the story. You could have ghost-written it for your dad, or written it like a biography from third-person perspective. Tell us about the route you took.

Well, I originally wrote it in third person, more like a biography. I joined a critique group and began taking chapters to the group. After several weeks of doing this, one of the ladies in the group said, “Karen, every time you come, we critique the chapters and then you tell us how the experience is effecting you. Have you ever considered that this is your story too?” I hadn’t. But I did then. And the members of the group were always so interested in the story, always anxious to learn more. That made me wonder if perhaps the story had an audience outside of my immediate family.

You ended up with a lot of stories, but not all were included in the book. It’s natural to want to include everything for a memoir so as not to lose anything, but if publishing for the public you have to hold back. How hard was that to make those decisions? What did you do with the stories left out?

You are so right. Publishing for family is one thing. Publishing for readers who don’t know you is quite another. Although, I would also like to say that perhaps if we put as much time and effort into making our family history interesting (and well written), maybe other people would be reading them.

Editing things out of the story was very difficult. I thought I’d done an okay job of it until I had an editor at Sourcebooks working with me. Editor Peter Lynch was wonderful to work with. He had a good vision for the story I wanted to tell and a gentle way of guiding me toward what needed to be done. When it’s your story, you do have a tendency to believe that everything is important and relevant. But it’s not. The story must move forward. If you put too much in, you will lead the reader down rabbit trails and confuse them. I constantly asked myself, “Does this matter to the reader? Does it tell a part of the story? Does it move the story forward?” If the answer was no, then it had to be cut. I have a file of additional letters and stories that didn’t make that cut.

Did you include photos or other types of extra material in the book? Did you need to do much research?

The team at Sourcebook really caught the vision for the book. I gave them photos and memorabilia but never expected them to use much of it. But they did. Each chapter has not only the original letters, but photos and memorabilia in it. It’s arranged in an amazing fashion. Everything about the book and how it’s laid out and what is included sets the stage for the story. It was really a beautiful experience to see what they’d done. I cried.

Your dad has been to book-signings with you and you both were interviewed for a spot on NPR. He seems to be taking it all in stride—what does he think about all this fuss over him?

I think he’d still like to find that rock at times. He is 90 years old now and yes, he’s doing some of the signings with me. I swear he gets younger and more energized with each one. People who come out are so kind and honor him. He fretted over what to write when he signs a book. He’s settled on “and her dad, Murray Fisher” below my name. But he’s also a humble man. He survived the war. His friend, Mal, didn’t. He never forgets that. There are still times when I see that cloud of grief come over him.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about the book or the journey of writing the book?
I’d rather spend time reminding people how precious the gift of time is. When Dad and I started going out for breakfast, nine years ago, I never dreamed the story that would come from it. It was only an hour or so of time, once a week. And yet, that time together became so important – to both of us. We all have stories in our families, in our neighborhoods or places of worship that haven’t yet been told. Or maybe the short version has been told. We have a tendency to think, I’ve got to write that down someday. Someday, I’ll sit down with Grandpa or Auntie and record that story. But the reality is that for many, time runs out. Once your loved one is gone, so are their stories. None of us are promised tomorrow. With the holiday season upon us, make a promise to yourself to slow down and listen. I will too.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog. Happy Holidays!

Look for more information about Breaking the Code and Karen Fisher-Alaniz (Ah-lah-neez) at her website, StoryMatters2. Karen and I encourage everyone to talk to veterans and ask them about their lives. Many veterans such as Karen’s dad are reticent for various reasons to talk about their service, but it’s important to ask. Telling the stories can be painful, but also healing, and can validate the importance of what they did for their country. Don’t let them pass away thinking, as one elderly veteran told Karen, “I have a story, too, but nobody wants to know it.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving is for family relationships and stories

Women’s Memoirs, a lifewriting blog I follow, had an interesting post recently that’s worth sharing. Matilda had read The New Science of Love:  How Understanding the Brain’s Wiring Can Help Kindle Your Relationship, by Dr. Fran Cohen Praver. Since Thanksgiving is coming up and you’ll probably be spending time with extended family, Matilda's post is worth reading. The gist is that not only do our relationships as little kids with our parents matter, but also the relationships we had with our siblings. The way we interacted with our brothers and sisters may be affecting the way we act today, not just with them as adults, but with other people! And we thought parents were to blame for everything.

Were you or one of your siblings picked on? Who was the bossy one? Did someone feel the need to lie, to pretend sickness, to complain constantly? Is someone still bossy, still whiny, still needy? Is someone suffering from low self-esteem, too much self-esteem? I remember picking on my little sister a little too much. I apologized to her years ago. Thankfully, I could finally see how my behavior hurt her, but many people cannot step outside themselves and see their behavior or how it hurts or annoys others. Then they wonder why the family (or other people) doesn’t like them.

If you’re dreading this Thanksgiving because of difficult family relationships, someone (or two) stuck in the rut of past behavior and maybe even carrying it on to a spouse or kids, try dredging up some memories of how you all related to each other when you were one family under the same roof. Perhaps by telling old stories you can elicit laughter, or even understanding and healing. It’s always interesting (sometimes shocking!) to hear different views of one memory. If you let the feelings behind those different views exist without judgment—because feelings are not right or wrong, they just are—your family members will feel safe talking about their feelings. No attacking. Learning about each other’s perspectives might help break the cycle of harmful current behavior, or at least put a crack in it, or at least let others know where they are coming from. Learning about our parents’ early lives can really be eye-opening in terms of connecting how that affected their parent relationship with their children—I know all about that from writing my mother’s childhood memoir, Cherry Blossoms in Twilight!

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving full of the awareness of all the blessings, large and small, in your lives. Whether your family is a little dysfunctional or not, enjoy some time together gathering old memories and learning about each other.

Oh, and my friend, Bob, has a fun Thanksgiving Song of Gratitude for you.

And here is a re-post of the fabulous fresh pumpkin pie recipe from my sister:

Home-made Pumpkin Pie

1 ½ cup pumpkin puree
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
½ cup milk
1 ½ tsp vanilla

Cut in half and clean out a small pie pumpkin. Microwave each half on High, cut side down, in a pie plate filled with 1/8 inch water, until a fork goes in easily (15-20 minutes each half). Drain, cool, remove flesh and puree in a blender. Add remaining ingredients to 1 ½ c of pumpkin puree, pour into a smaller size pie pan with a graham cracker crust or unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Bake at 375F for 45 minutes until set. Makes a delicious custard-like pie, incomparable to use of canned pumpkin. Serve with dollops of whipped cream.

Ginger Graham Crust

1 ½ c graham cracker crumbs
6 Tbsp melted unsalted butter
1/3 c sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger

Toss gently to mix, spread into a pie plate, pressing onto bottom and sides. Bake at 375F for 4-5 minutes to set. Cool before filling. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

WWII History: A China-Burma-India forgotten theatre memoir

Genealogy and discovering house histories are Kim Wolterman’s forte, but recently she published a book about her father’s experiences in the China-Burma-India theatre of WWII. From Buckeye to GI: Leroy C. Kubler, The War Years 1942-1945, was released in time for Veterans Day this year and is a tribute to her father and his service to this country. The book contains a lot of historical information that would be particularly interesting to veterans from that theatre and their families. Veterans Day actually is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended WWI, but it now honors all U.S. war veterans and military servicemen and women.

Kim, how did you come to write the book? Were there letters to home involved?

When my father passed away a lot of personal items that had belonged to him and my mom were transported to my house in St. Louis. Among them were photo albums and all of my dad’s papers – financial, military, sheet music that he had written. As I began to put all of the war related items together I realized that together they told a story about my dad’s military service. My mother had saved the letters that my dad had written to her from India, and when she died in 1989 my sister and I left them undisturbed in her dresser. Unfortunately after my dad died the letters were no longer in the drawer. I suppose at some point my dad just tossed them out.

The book looks to be mostly factual. Is this more a history or a memoir? Did your father ever tell his war-time stories to family?

The book is actually a combination of history and memoir. My dad was a bit unusual for a veteran in that he did not mind talking about his military service. In the book I have recounted some of his stories, but as I looked at the documents and photos he had saved I found myself researching the different places where he had been stationed as well.

Did you know from the start you wanted this to be more than just for your family? What made you decide to publish for the public?

When I began writing the book I approached it from the standpoint of writing it for the public. As a genealogist I recognized the significance of the documents I held in my hands. In general I feel that the stories of the WWII veterans need to be told, but in my dad’s case he had kept so many historical documents from his time in service that I knew other people would be interested in seeing them as well. The China-Burma-India Theater has not had much written about it – even during the War it was referred to as the “forgotten theater”. The stories that have been told are those of the “Hump” pilots. My dad was the loading supervisor at the Chabua, India, air base, responsible for making sure the planes of those pilots were loaded properly.

You started this project after your father died. What kind of difficulties did that cause in the writing and how did you work around them. Were other family members able to help?

It definitely would have been helpful to write this while my dad was still alive because I could have captured more of his personal stories and gained further knowledge about the photographs he had taken. But also as I began to do research for the book I found so many websites I would have loved to share with him. I have become email penpals with a Navy veteran who was on the same ship with my dad to and from India. And I met a woman whose dad was transported to India on the voyage. How interested he would have been to read all the veteran postings on the China-Burma-India Theater website!

You have a lot of photos and documents and such included in the book. What were your sources for those, and were they easy to get? You didn’t have one of those boxes of unlabeled photos, did you? How did you organize the book?

As I mentioned my dad left behind wonderful historical documents and photos. Most of them were labeled, but some were not. Also my Navy penpal shared with me resources for the USS General Anderson naval ship. I decided the best way to organize the book was chronologically.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about the book or the journey of writing it?

This book provides a visual and historical glimpse into a small but important piece of WWII history. As I wove all the pieces together I perhaps for the first time began to truly understand the enormous sacrifices that the men and women who served in WWII had made in order to protect the very fabric upon which America had been built. I would encourage anyone with a veteran in their family to document their story. It deserves to be told.

Kim Wolterman is author of Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed(room), which explains how to research the history of a St. Louis County, Missouri, home, and an e-book, Keys to Unlocking House History, which is a resource for house researchers anywhere in the U.S. She lives in a century home in a National Historic District of a St. Louis suburb and provides consulting services to others who want to learn the history of their older homes. Kim's My House History website is lost in cyberspace at the moment, but you can reach her at her Write Formation blog.
  PS: From Buckeye to GI takes the usual time to ship from Amazon, which is playing bullying games with a number of small publishers lately.