Category Archives: making a story

First Snow Day – 2015

Last night I worked out the list and plan for my work today. Good. Good. Went to sleep feeling on top of things. I was on track. Ask any solopreneur – that’s the goal.
Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 12.57.36 PM But instead –

I woke to a snow white world this morning although I went to sleep thinking the snow was going to fall in PA not around us. One of nature’s changes of mind and surprises.
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Listening to the weather alerts  Karen went to the PA house last night to make sure all was well up there. Neither of us expected that I would wake up on my own to handle the snow pile up. I am challenged when it comes to shoveling. Thank heavens there are two strapping boys living next door who wield a fine shovel.

Last night it occurred to me that I should move my car from the street in front of the house to the driveway. Even though I knew that’s what Jim would have done I shrugged off the  warning thought and went to bed.

So this morning after the boys cleared the walkway and the driveway I decided to make that car-move even though the streets were not completely cleared. The snow was lightweight and dry. Surely I could manage this. For years I had watched Jim manage these moves. I felt confident. And it was going well until I started slipping down the steep street entrance to my driveway and ended up turned across the middle of the street.
This was not what I intended!

Fortunately Chris, my very capable neighbor was home. He did not make it into the driveway either but he drifted the car down the street further and parked it out of the way. “I will move it for you after the snow plow comes through.”

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Fine. I am not planning on going anywhere. Cat, dog and I are sitting tight.

And  – I am listening to the news and wondering about the real possibility of losing power – so rather than just thinking about it – or leaving it to chance – I am getting out the lanterns and replacing batteries.


Where Do Stories Begin?

For me the beginning days of a New Year bring on spurts of cleaning out, letting go, reflecting and musing on the past. I have a long-time habit of making lists, sorting out, neat-en-ing-up, and day-dreaming as I prepare for an early year week-end workshop with storyteller Donald Davis.  Donald is a brilliant guide  to work with as you tip-toe into a new story.

Often I open long-closed boxes because there is no telling what you will find – – especially when there might be photos among the papers. Sometimes it takes more time than the initial finding for the possibilities to emerge. It reminds me of gathering scraps when I am thinking of a working on collage. In this instance its collecting  a bit of this and a bit of that until you can feel and form a story.

For instance: last year I found a few black and white photos of cars in the snow on North Broadway, Baltimore, MD circa probably January 1954.
Snow at JHH  March 1954

My husband Jim took the photos from the roof of his fraternity house which was across the street from Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was a few doors down from Hampton House, the Nurses Home where the student nurses lived.

Jim came to Baltimore in 1953 from Madera, CA which is located in the heart of the fertile and sunny San Joaquin Valley and in sight of the majestic snow-capped Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Snow was not  unfamiliar to him – when he went to the mountains – but not piled up on city streets.

As I looked at this picture I realized it was taken before I arrived in Baltimore in September 1954.  It is a moment before we met – – before our first date – – before our  courtship and wedding –  that led to the 57 years of our life together.  Before death “did us part”.

We don’t exist together in this moment.

Jim was 22 years old and a first year Medical Student at Johns Hopkins. I was 17 years old and a Senior in High School in Charlotte, NC with no “fixed ideas” of where I would be after Graduation.

We were poised on the edge of a story that was not known or even imagined.

Maybe this is the moment for taking  a “long-view.”


The Friendly Skies – Come Through

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This is my new pink iPod touch – which is exactly like the pink iPod touch I lost on my United Airlines Flight to San Francisco December 18. When I discovered  the loss I was very upset. First I could not believe I had actually lost it – so I did the suitcase and carry-on search over and over until I was SURE it was missing. In fact, I was pretty sure where it was – tucked into the wall-mounted pocket in front of the bulk-head seat I had claimed as mine when I boarded the plane at Dulles Airport.

Why upset? Well, first off the iPod is not a frivolous recreational toy for me – it is an important asset for my storytelling work.  I record everything as a “voice memo.” — then convert through Garage Band to mp3 files.  I set up practice lists and work in the car, on a plane or just walking around. It was loaded with all my playlists and a few albums of favorite songs for those times I cannot bear the sound of my own voice any longer.

Second, I had heard that Apple was discontinuing this model and in the future the iPod would not have the Voice Memo capability.  I would be out-of-luck.  Being a creature of habit who likes to keep comfort levels in place – I would be stuck working out a new system. So I jumped and ordered a replacement. Pink – exactly like the one I had just lost. I had little to no hope that I would ever see the lost one again.

My daughter Robin was more hopeful. “Mom, put in a Lost and Found form to United.” Robin was forcefully optimistic. “Mom, have you put in the Lost and Found form, yet?” she kept asking.  “Why? Its probably gone for sure.” “Just do it.” So I did.

I lost my iPod December 18. On December 30 I was back in Maryland where I picked up the new PINK one – only one difference from the lost one –  my name is engraved FREE on the back.  With the help of an Apple genius we loaded all my stories from the iTunes back-up, set passwords and it was ready to go to work. I was relieved and feeling comfortable.

January 1 my iPhone rang. “Mrs. Schoettler, this is Sharon from United Air Lines in San Francisco.” For a moment I was confused then, “you found it!”  “Yes – I think this may be your’s. please describe your item and give me the password.” I did.

It WAS my original PINK ipod. The cleaners found it tucked into the wall-mounted pocket in front of 7C bulkhead seat. With the ear phones still plugged in. She had received my Lost and Found Form. The item had been buried by other things on her desk for a week. “We have been so behind.” Laughing, I told her about my replacement. “Maybe you can return it.”  “I would. Except – Apple offers a Free engraving  option- and I had them put my name on the outside back – to protect it against loss..”

She laughed. I laughed. Sharon will Fed Ex it to me. It should be home in a few days.

Starting the New Year with a piece of good luck. Happy New Year.

P.S: I will be flying the Friendly Skies again in February  when I take The Hello Girls to CA – – believe me, I will not be tucking either one of my iPods in a seat back pocket!!!



Remembering Dec. 7 1941

Ellouise Saluting
Earlier this morning I posted the following on Facebook:
I hopped in the car for a Sunday afternoon ride with my grand-parents. We turned a corner – from Pecan into 7th Street in Charlotte, NC . At Independence Park traffic was stopped and newspaperboys were in the streets waving pink newspapers and hollering EXTRA EXTRA EXTRA. My grandfather bought one and he read the headline out loud “WAR. Japs Bomb Peral Harbor.”

As a 5 year old, I didn’t know what Granny was crying about – but I knew it was BAD!
Do you have memories of that day?

Shortly after I posted my brother Robert responded on Facebook:
Only six years before my time and of course kids my age grew up very well informed on WWII. I remember Mama talking about the u-boats off the coast of Wrightsville Beach, among other wartime tales.

Its not often that I have a chance to talk to my brother who lives in Atlanta so I sent back:

Ellouise Schoettler Oh, yes. I was at Wrightsville Beach with her for some of that- when there was “lights out” at the coast every night, and the car headlights were painted half black. Uniformed guys everywhere. Closer to home – I used to run out to the sidewalk on 7th Street and salute as the convoys, trucks filled with guys from Fort Bragg rolled by. You could hear the roar of those trucks ten minutes before you saw them. When Daddy joined the US Army Air Corps gave me one of his “oveseas” caps. I wore than hat every day. And aways when I was saluting the troops as they rolled by on 7th Street – and they laughed and waved back.

Later I added another story of Jim’s memory of that incredible December Sunday.

Ellouise Schoettler My husband Jim remembered hearing the announcement on a console radio in the Schoettler living room in Fresno, CA – the very same radio that now sits in my daughter’s living room near SF, CA and reminds us of a bit of Schoettler family history. The radio also shows us how “things” help us hold on to the memories for family stories. Robin S. Fox

Talking about the radio always prompted Jim to tell this story – his uncle was married on Dec. 7 in Fresno – the bride’s brother was in the Navy, stationed on the US Battleship Arizona in Hawaii – he was granted permission to leave the ship to send flowers to his sister for her wedding – he ran back once the bombing started but when he reached the dock the Arizona was burning and sinking! He suffered over that for the rest of his life. Many of these war stories have several sides don’t they?

There are so many bits that make up the enormous quilt of life that day.

Many people say, “I wasn’t born then.”
You can still add to the story – if you ask someone who was there for their story.
Even as a child.

They remember.

Our Stories Are Our Lasting Legacy

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Note: When I embraced myself as a storyteller twenty-five years ago my subversive goal was to tell our family stories and have my children come to hear them. You see, when I began collecting our family history our kids waved me off when I spoke begat, begat, begat and then they died.  “Boring, Mom.” and  – they were right. But once I began to find and add stories and to  work something in about today and the members of the family – well it all changed. Now my family not only listens to my stories – some times they pass the stories along.

Today I wrote this essay and posted it  on Bethesda-Chevy Chase and and here. Why? It is important to me. I feel like this message is my storyteller mission statement.

At last, The Atlantic Magazine has published an article I have been waiting for – for years.

Thirty years ago when I began hunting up my family history genealogy I learned that there was no passing down just the begats – you have to have the stories or the flesh will not go back on the bones. And often times, the stories you want are already buried and you can’t get to them. The sad truth is that one death can close a family library of stories.

I realized I had to switch my tactics and create stories to go with the names and dates I had collected or they would rot in a box.  I was desperate to tell the stories so I became a storyteller.

Now, you don’t have to go that far unless you have a yearning for standing in front of the room. But it is important to tell your family about you and your life and how you got to be who you are. Because who you are is part of who the younger ones in your family are and will be.

When I hit rough spots I am glad I have pieced together the stories of the women in my family because they are all survivors. They survived heartache, financial troubles, loss of children and husbands – young and old.  One husband was shot in a senseless robbery and his wife went on to raise six children in a time where there were no pensions or workman’s comp – just hard work. I knew this valiant woman, my great aunt, who always stood tall and never lost her faith as she faced into the wind.

And then there are the stories shared around the table, mixed with laughter and love and memories of those who have gone. As well as telling of how things were 10, 20. 30 or more years ago so that our children today will understand us better when we wonder about technologies and lament the demise of the fountain pen or the silence of touch screens as we miss the clatter of typewriters which proved you were working.

Holidays are here. Families are gathering. This is a great time to tell some stories about you and your family. Our family is the most precious audience we have.

Wishing you a very blessed and storied holiday season.

The Memoir Urge



The first time I wrote a personal story I was in the 7th grade when the teacher gave a class assignment to write about our family.

I wrote about my Daddy – a crazy, funny story about some of his eccentric antics. I read it to the class and when my classmates laughed uproariously I was hooked.

I have explored telling my story in many forms.

Collage is one – but before that – I worked on albums.

In the 1970s one of the new modes of expression for women artists was autobiograpy in an effort to validate the lifes of ordinary women. Artist Miriam Schapiro used handmade articles made by anonymous women in her art work and many other women artists included photographs, bits of biography and momentos. Once when Miriam was visiting DC, she and I made a field trip to Thieves Market, a huge flea market under a tin roof which was a bit south of Alexandria on Hwy 1. That afternoon Mimi introduced me to the beauty and charm of old scrap books as examples of anonymous women’s art work and I have been collecting them ever since. As well as making many of my own.

My first auto-biographical album was exhibited at the Washington Women’s Art Center in 1975. I used old and new family photographs to tell a story which connected similar images of the past and the present. Something I still do in my storytelling – and in writing this blog. Connecting the threads of the story, past and present, as a way of weaving my life together.

In 1994 when my father died, I made a biographical album for his life and housed it in an old leather salesman’s catalog notebook that he had used for years and given to me. My thought was – his life story within a bit of his life. The Album was exhibited at Gallery 10, Washington, DC in 1996 in Life After Life, an exhibition organized by artist Claudia Vess.

In 2003 Lucy Blankstein and I created videos from family photographs to tell a story from each of our families for Embedded Memories:Digital Recall, our two-person exhibition at Gallery 10, Washington, DC and at the DC Art-o-Matic. In Family Album,a video I made for that exhibition,  I combine words and music with the photographs to remember my grandmother and my great-mother by using my mother’s words to tell a bit of their stories.

I hope you will leave a comment and share ways you are using to capture and preserve your family stories and — most importantly TELL them.

Food Prompts Memories That Can Lead to Stories

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A dish of bright green asparagus is the spark for memories that could or will become a story. It is certainly a bit of memoir remembering putting me back in to several worlds.

I buy and cook asparagus often. Its easy, dresses up a meal and I love it.

I am so known to love asparagus, especially the slender, baby spears, that Jim’s mother used to stock the refrigerator with the bright green bundles and have it waiting for me on our visits to California. I have eaten it for breakfast, lunch and supper. Asparagus as a side with scrambled eggs – ambrosia.

Growing up Mama bought canned asparagus at the Big Star on Central Avenue when she wanted to dress up a special meal – you know, the fat, muddy green, soggy spears. She would put them on a platter with a huge dollop of creamy Duke’s mayonnaise – maybe some red tomato slices -as a side dish. Even then I liked them – mostly because they were supposed to be a special treat.

I don’t remember the exact time or place I discovered fresh cooked asparagus but after that moment there was no going back.

It might have been about the time I discovered that green beans did not have to be cooked with fat-back until they were black – although that is the way I like them best and will feast until I am full on the memories of my grandmother’s house on East Seventh Street.

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Do you like the picture? Here is the recipe. Thanks to



Asparagus Recipe

  • Cook time: 10 minutes


  • 1 bunch of medium sized asparagus, about 1 lb
  • 2 Tbsp of the most exquisite extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest – freshly grated lemon rind
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 Prepare the asparagus by rinsing them thoroughly, break off any tough, white bottoms and discard. Cut into 1 to 2 inch sections, slicing the asparagus at a slight diagonal.

2 Fill a medium sized saucepan half way with water, bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and reduce heat slightly to a simmer. Parboil the asparagus for exactly 2 minutes. Drain the hot water. While the asparagus are still hot, toss them in a bowl with the olive oil, Parmesan, and lemon rind. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or room temperature.

Note that when you are working with so few ingredients, it’s important to make sure they are of the highest quality.

Yield: Serves 4.


Genealogy and my storytelling

Gus Keasler Letter Sig 2

My passion for storytelling is linked to my passion for genealogy. I find stories in genealogy.

Letters particularly bring anyone reading them close to those long ago and the letters tell stories.

Parks is one of my mother’s family lines. Did we know this? No. Did she know this? No to that too. Its amazing how the shade from your family tree begins to spread when you start tracing your families.

On one of my forays to the DAR Library looking for ancestors I found this letter from James Parks which says so much about how and why family history slips away.

More than 100 years ago on September 9, 1893 James Parks sat down to write this letter to his Granddaughter:
My dear granddaughter,
You desire me to
write out a history of our family, I regret that I know so little compared with perhaps what I might have learned from my grandfather. But the truth is that at the time when he was capable of affording me information, I was more interested in pocket knives, fish hooks, and pop guns than in family history, and when I arrived at an age when history of my family would have been more interesting, my Grandfather had fallen into a childish stage and was incapable of giving such information about anything of a worldly nature.”

What else is there to say. I am grateful for finding this letter – James Parks encourages me on. Letters put you close to the author and I felt I met him when I found this. We are not direct descendants of James Parks – but are collaterally related. Coming EARLY as Mama’s families did – the ties are tightly woven.