Sunday, November 24, 2013

Giving Thanks in the Library and Archives

I love going to my local antique shop to seek out ephemera for each holiday. This year I found this postcard to put us in a seasonal mood. In fact, it snowed here in New England last night and the wind howls as I sip my coffee. It was hard to focus on the holidays with recent warm temperatures. Now it's time to wrap ourselves in and plan for the traditions that make the season a special one for your diverse communities.

In our school library, I continue to try to bring a sense of community and heritage.I began a Thanksgiving tradition at home with my daughter many years ago. We cut out leaves and over the course of November we write all the things for which we are thankful and tape them to the wall. This year, I changed the wall tree to something that stands in the middle of the floor. I spent a lot of time cutting saplings in my garden this year, so I brought some branches in. I also brought some branches to my library.

Students are usually very happy to contribute their thanks to our tree. They are thankful for friends, family, phones, sports and many, many nice things. We had a wall tree last year and have saved the leaves in our school archives. It will be fun to keep track over the years of the different things for which the different generations of students are thankful. 

I've also brought the idea of food traditions into the library with a display that encourages contribution of recipes and memories. After Thanksgiving, we are asking families to contribute a family seasonal dish one day a week, so that we can introduce the teens to food from different ethnic traditions as another way to build our community. 

Once again, the archives and library are playing a part in community building. I have a lot of great things planned for 2014 including a retired teacher's reunion as part of an oral history event, library stations throughout the school, a community wide journaling project, and much more. Education and cultural heritage institutions are a perfect fit and can help form a solid foundation for community building inside and outside of a school. I give thanks for the opportunity to help with this endeavor.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day

Today I give thanks to all those who fought and served for my country. I specifically reflect on the Veterans in my family.

My Grandpa served in the U.S. Army as a foreign civilian after World War II. I am proud of the mental strength he exhibited after the horrific experiences he endured with my grandmother coming through that war. To all who serve our country, Americans and non-Americans, thank you for your work. I would not be here today if it weren't for our Veterans.

I am also personally tied to two strong men who stormed Normandy. I am thankful to my Great Uncles Sid, Joe, and Sol and the stories they shared with me when I was very young.

The stories are a bit twisted in my head. I can't remember for sure if Sid or Sol served, but it was Uncle Sid who sat and told me about his childhood more than any of my grandmother's other brothers. While as a child I appreciated and was wowed by the tales he told, I wish I had truly understood their importance. I wish that I had recorded his voice or taken notes when he spoke to me. Instead, I am left with the flawed memories of my 40 something year old brain.

Give thanks today by honoring and documenting your veterans.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Keeping Holiday Food Memories

This is the time of year when we all start thinking about feasts in New England. The weather is growing colder. Most of the planted food has been harvested from our farms (and from our backyards if we are gardeners.) All that remains to eat outside my house are the herbs, which are waiting to be chopped up and put in my turkey. This time of year I begin thinking about Aunt Louise's Sweet Potato Pie, Mom's matzoh ball soup, and our Christmas Ham or bird.

I keep a little recipe box in my kitchen. Some people have migrated their recipes online, but this is one thing that I prefer to keep on paper. Cards, stained with grease or slightly sticky with sugar crystals, get pulled from the little box each November. Generally, I don't like to cook. I make dinner each night, but rarely do I get fancy. This time of year is different. This time of year I am after the feasts or the sweet gifts in my recipe box. This time of year is a time for memories. I'm making them and keeping them.

I talk in my archives presentations about my mother's homemade pizza. She made dough from scratch every Sunday. She made homemade sauce out of garden tomatoes, froze it, then defrosted it from our large basement freezer to be used as the pizza sauce. Fresh cheese --added 4-5 hours after her whole pizza cooking process began -- would greet the three little hungry faces of her children who stared into the oven. "When will it be done Mom? We're hungry!...That smells so goooood!"

I make pancakes once in awhile. I hope my kid will remember that. Yet, I am pretty sure that the special memories I'm making with food are from the holidays. I am under no delusions that the everyday cooking around here will be remembered. I am not known for my cooking. No one is going to say, "Grandma Melissa was a great cook!" Yet, it would be nice to leave some food behind that embeds itself in my daughter's brain and makes her mouth water just from the memory.

A couple of years ago, my friend Sue and I wrote a food memories workbook to help people think about and keep family memories that our important to them. Though our work has taken us in different directions, for now, the workbook is still a valuable tool for recording food memories and keeping alive traditions for future generations. One of my favorite exercises is to create a food biography. This is a perfect thing to think about this time of year. I'm encouraging staff and students to think about their food memories with an exhibit and worksheet at the high school where I teach.

At home, for Thanksgiving, I have my favorite homemade cranberry recipe. My daughter will probably always remember that Dad prefers canned sauce and Mom will make the homemade, even if she (I) am the only one who will eat it! Aunt Louise's sweet potato pie has been a staple on my family table since I was a kid. This may be the one recipe that gets passed on forever. We have Stovetop stuffing (for her Dad and Granddad) and fresh GF stuffing for her mom and Uncle William. My husband bakes gluten free pies for all of us. We have our Turkey stuffed with vegetables. The rest of the meal may change each year. I have a nice carrot pear soup that I pull out once in awhile. Sometimes we make peas with pearl onions...but the staples will always be there --on our table and hopefully in our memories.

So how do we keep the memories alive? Besides my little recipe card box and a food memories workbook that I will pass on to my daughter, here are some other ways to embed the traditions:

  • Cookbooks - add comments to the margins as you improve recipes. Note who likes what, when you cook it and memories associated with times you have eaten eat
  • Talk it up! Bring your kids into your kitchen and talk about that fresh cranberry sauce. Every year, for awhile, I would hear, "Why are you making cranberry sauce when we have canned?" This year, my daughter said to me, "When we go shopping for cranberry sauce, don't forget that we need the two kinds."
  • Take pictures. Take pictures of your food prep work, or have someone take a picture of you preparing the food. Take photos of your table and the people at your table. Consider creating a photo essay
  • Record conversations about food at your holiday table. (I am beginning to use the Voice Library to record oral histories.)
  • Have your kids help you in the kitchen. Have them taste test and add to your menu
  • Make holiday menus. This is another good way to involve the kids!
Most of all, stay warm, enjoy your family and have a great time preparing those feasts -- especially if it is the only cooking that you will do all year.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Deckle and a Community

As the Information Specialist at a local high school, I am taking the first steps in a two year preparation leading to my high school's 50th anniversary celebration. I am focusing the celebration on information and history to show how our past has grounded as and will help lead us to the future. This is an exciting opportunity to lean heavily on my archives expertise to support the education of our students. At the moment, our efforts are focused on three very broad areas.
  • Search for a rumored buried time capsule and building of our own
  • Creation of a school archives by collecting existing materials and documenting unwritten history
  • Work culminating in re-creation of Winter carnival past events 
The creation of a school archives will show students the role that their school plays in their community.  In so doing, it will allow students to better understand their own role in the world and in history, while at the same time protecting our group knowledge of events for posterity. The final celebration itself will boost pride and self understanding. The celebration will become part of our recorded history while highlighting the value of that history.
Image from
Next month we are making paper journals. I have been talking with the town's "Main Street" organization to place books in businesses in the area. We will encourage people to record their reminiscences of the school in the books. I have a college intern working to promote this effort. I am also coordinating my efforts with the help of the public library and historical society. In fact, the director of the library is the one who brought the journal idea to the table. She came in with an article about another community that made journals and said that she thought it would be a nice piece to our work. It really pays to collaborate!

  • " Collaboration helps us learn and gives us more ways to access information. It enables us to rely on the diversity of a group to accomplish tasks. It gives us multiple perspectives for more efficiently solving problems, which can make us more capable of follow through on a wide-range of tasks. With a network for collaboration, we are smarter. If we spread our network far enough, someone can help us answer the questions for which we have no answers ourselves. Collaboration can help us grow ideas and garner new tools for information seeking behaviors." [M. Mannon]

I like the handmade aspect of our planned journals. For one, while this first outreach effort is meant to involve adult community members, it is important for our students to be part of it at the outset. While later we will ask students to write their own reminiscences, we want them to see that the community has an attachment to our school, that we do not operate in a vacuum, and that community support is important for education...So to my deckle....(I just love that word!) We are building a deckle to create handmade paper. We will do this leading into school vacation and the holiday season. The artistic element and thoughts of community feel ripe for December. Paper will be bound into our journals and early next year, I will ask for student help to put the journals out beyond school walls.

And here we go...I look forward to sharing more as we continue on our way!