Memoir is lived history

My mother’s birthday has passed, and I can’t believe she has been gone for six years now. The anniversary of her death comes in November, so each year as my favorite season arrives I am struck all over again with fresh memories of her last days, and the thought of her life so filled with history. The Japanese civilian experience surviving WWII is still so rarely spoken of or written about. And the Japan of her childhood no longer exists.

When my mother died, I lost my anchor to Japan, and I think of this fascinating genetic and cultural link fading away with my daughters. Their children will be all American, and no hint of Japan will be left but perhaps a few inherited curiosities. Thank goodness for the stories. As the leaves become beautiful in death, I think of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, and I am so glad that even through death, my mother’s stories survive. She will be remembered. History has been captured.

Our elder generation is leaving us, taking their stories with them. How did people live in those days? Times were so different then. Don’t let your family stories die. They are your inheritance, and history worth saving.

Yaeko+Junko 1952

My mother at left, with friend Junko, when they worked for American families during the Occupation


Cherry Blossoms Twilight

Posted in capturing memories, Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, heritage, history, war stories, WWII | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Sylvia Acevedo’s Inspirational Path to the Stars Memoir

Rocket scientist and Girl Scout CEO Sylvia Acevedo was at our St. Louis County Library today inspiring an audience full of girls to reach for the stars, aided by skills learned in scouting. Her memoir, Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scouts to Rocket Scientist, is a testament to the value of scouting. Girls, in particular, can really benefit from the opportunities to learn and achieve on their own and as a team, building confidence in their own skills and their leadership abilities. Ms. Acevedo broke ground by becoming the first Hispanic person to graduate from Stanford with a master’s degree in engineering, and one of the first women to work for Sandia Labs – when there was NO bathroom for a woman to run to during breaks (if you’ve seen the Hidden Figures movie). She needed a bicycle! She was also one of the first women to work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. If you have a chance to see her on her book tour, go—she is a delight.

Ms. Acevedo said she started writing her memoir four years ago because people kept lining up to talk to her after her speaking events with the Girl Scouts. She has been on the Girl Scouts board for many years, became interim CEO, and a year later given the permanent position. What a journey she’s had from being a lonely new girl in a mostly white school to excited Brownie Scout to university and career in engineering, now giving back to the scouts. Coming from a home of poverty, troubles, and traditional expectations of women, she learned through Girl Scouts that there was a wider world of possibilities out there. She learned to set goals and achieve them by steps, to manage her money, to be prepared, to be persistent. Selling cookies door-to-door is a bigger learning experience than you may think!

Sylvia’s mother was a supportive figure, and I love how being involved in Girl Scouts empowered even her to break from the traditions of her culture to become more assertive, independent, and fulfilled. Sylvia’s troop leaders were encouraging and supportive to both mother and daughter, one being responsible for turning Sylvia toward a career in science after noticing her looking at the stars. “You can earn badges for both cooking AND science.” (As you might know, cooking IS science.)

I read most of Path to the Stars while waiting for the program to begin and while waiting for my turn to get in the (long) autograph line. The last several chapters finished at home are just the best! This is a book for girls (or boys) reading at about the 4th grade level or above, or it’s a great book to read aloud. It is a rich story of trials overcome, the value of mentors, of having persistence, and—most of all—girl power!

By the way, Ms. Acevedo’s favorite Girl Scout cookie is Thin Mints because the scent of a broken cookie is so calming, and her favorite planet is (was) Pluto – yay!


[Mom brag: My older daughter has an aerospace degree, but NASA wasn’t hiring during the recession so for a few years she became a petroleum engineer working with all-male crews in New Mexico’s desolate landscape, and, yes, similar to Sylvia’s story, the company had to find a uniform small enough to fit her. Now she has an engineering office job and is a Girl Scout leader of two troops and helps manage a service unit for program and training support, despite being young and not having any children. She is also a regional field director for Phi Sigma Rho, a women’s engineering sorority. I am very proud of my busy girl!]

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Coffee is Cheaper Than Therapy – no-stress life writing

Life writing does not have to be complicated. Ann Conklin Unruh wrote a booklet of short musings and advice based on regular chats with a good friend over coffee dates. Coffee is Cheaper than Therapy—true!, and it’s a lot easier to get into a good coffee shop than to get an appointment with a good therapist. Therapists are very busy these days.

Ann has created a nice gift for her family and friends and anyone else who likes light-hearted, simple wisdoms and tidbits of this and that which can be read in bits and pieces—good for busy people. She writes as a woman who has journeyed enough years through life. She wrote about the importance of getting positive feedback to keep your spirits buoyed, whether or not to color her hair, and the problem of being thought responsible. She wondered who bothers to cook these days, especially after the kids leave the nest. I particularly enjoyed her story about finding the right swimsuit for her mature self—and making peace with it. Her calm, warm personality shines through, and I can imagine her family even way in the future enjoying “hearing” Ann speak to them, still giving them loving advice and making them smile. Future generations will get to know a great-plus grandmother they will never meet, and they will learn—even from the tidbits—what life was like and what she thought about. Ann dedicated her book to her three young grandchildren.

You don’t have to write a big book. Leaving one or two paragraphs of your thoughts on topics is something worthwhile. I loved reading my grandmother’s very brief journal entries of a couple years in the 1930s and learning about her daily life and her thinking. Brief is way better than leaving nothing.

Read more about Ann and her book in an interview in Gazelle magazine:  “Author tells inspiration behind book.” If you feel intimidated about writing your life stories, perhaps Ann’s words will ease your anxieties and inspire you to just write a little. Pretend you are talking to a good friend—or go out for coffee with a friend and take notes.


Posted in book reviews, book talk, lifewriting, relationship | Tagged , | 9 Comments