Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our Not-So-Fun Adventure

I wanted to share a few photos so I decided to write some commentary to go along with them. Our “adventure” began two Saturdays ago – October 29th. We had been hearing that a “big” snowstorm was coming to town. Now, when you live in Massachusetts, big snowstorms hardly strike fear into your heart. I mean, last winter we got about 7 BIG snowstorms. Of course none of them came in October though. A big snowstorm in October seemed so unlikely that I even said to my husband “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Famous last words, right? Even if it did snow, we could handle it. We do all the time.

My first clue that something was different should have been Saturday night when we drove home from our church Halloween party. We could hardly get down my son’s friend’s road because so many trees were heavy with snow and leaning over the road. When we got to our own home, we found that a little tree by our front door was so bent over that we had to climb over the flower bed and onto the porch to get in the front door. When we got inside, the power was out. Unpleasant, I thought, but no big deal. We piled blankets on everyone and went to bed. I even made sure all the lights in the house were off so that when the power went on in the middle of the night, it wouldn’t wake anyone up. During the night, I woke several times to hear loud cracking sounds. Once, I took a flashlight and shone it out the back window. I saw a huge tree laying across our back lawn.

When we woke up the next morning, it was about 52 degrees inside the house – and there was still no power. Yuck. There was also no cell phone service. We had never lost cell phone service before. Looking out the window, I saw that we had gotten about a foot of snow. I also saw that the tree I had seen last night was not the only one down in our yard. A huge branch had fallen from higher then our second story ceiling, smashed half of our front fence (that we had just finished repairing and repainting two weeks ago). The branches nearly reached the kitchen window. Another huge tree was blocking our cars from getting out the driveway, one had smashed the back fence, and several more lay across the lawn. Christian (age 2) kept telling me, “Trees in the sky fall down, mom.”

Our house is on a little road (Gulf Road) that connects to Route 9 - one of the most major roads in town (but I live in the country so it’s just a two-land road). We got dressed and headed out to look around. Gulf Road was completely blocked by several huge trees. Our neighbors had a giant tree hanging upside down in their power line. It wasn’t until we turned the corner to Route 9 that we finally really realized how severe this storm had been. The road looked like a tornado had gone through it. Every five feet, a tree was down in the road. Trees lay across power lines, dangled over roads tangled in power lines, and power lines were strewn across lawns and the road everywhere. In several places, cars had been abandoned when huge trees had fallen and smashed them. The fact that it was October and some of the trees still had leaves on them had caused the trees to hold more of the wet, heavy snow – and had caused many to fall.

“We’re not going to have power for a week,” my husband said.

Now, I know this was not hurricane Katrina or anything. But, it was a tiny bit alarming to realize that we were stranded – no phone, no internet, no power, no heat, no water (we have a well so no electricity means no water), and no ability to drive away. Soon individual people were out on the road with their chain saws cutting a few of the major trees – our neighbor cut the one blocking our driveway. By night, I could drive to a gas station down the road (very slowly by driving around trees and on top of electrical wires). I wanted to find cell phone service so I could call my sister-in-law, Cassy, in NYC and see if we could escape to her house. I had no idea how widespread the damage was or if it was even possible to get out of town on the roads. Another problem – the gas station had no gas and we only had a quarter of a tank. A stranger let me borrow his cell phone (that had service – mine still didn’t) and Cassy said we were welcome at their house. We heated up leftovers on our grill for dinner, walked around with flashlights bundled up in coats and hats, dumped our water storage down the toilet to flush it (we tried bringing in some snow in a bin, but by then the house was so cold that the snow wasn’t melting very quickly), and huddled under the blankets. When we woke up, it was 44 degrees in the house. We were all miserable.

The next morning, we drove down the road some more and located a gas station with gas. The few stations that had gas had lines sometimes stretching half a mile. We had to pay in cash because they couldn’t take credit cards. That afternoon, I packed our belongings and headed out of town with the kids (my husband stayed behind). I took these pictures as I drove – all along Route 9 within about three miles from my house. Cars were still smashed under trees two days after the storm and I hadn’t seen one “official-looking” person. The road was an absolute safety hazard and if the town hadn’t been in a crisis, I am sure it would have been closed.

In NYC, I had cell phone service and was able to learn a little more. 100% of my town had lost power, as had many other towns around us. Some were calling it the worst storm in the history of western Massachusetts. (Other states were also hit hard, particularly Connecticut.)

As the days continued, I got periodic updates from friends in Belchertown. Halloween was “canceled.” The high school had been turned into a shelter. School was canceled for the entire week. Some people began getting power back on Tuesday night. Finally on Thursday, I decided to come back home. In the day, we began the work of cleaning up the mess and at night we slept at friend’s house since we still didn’t have power. The first clean-up task was to throw away all the food in the fridge and freezer. Still, I felt relatively calm until Friday afternoon. My husband’s co-worked came over with a chain saw to help us cut some of the largest trees. The one that had smashed half of the front fence was still caught in a branch higher than our house. I watched as he cut it down and it crashed through the remaining fence – the one I had just spent several weekends painting. At that moment, for the first time I felt a lump in my throat.

Sunday at 2:30 p.m. our power came back on – after eight nights. I just got internet access today (but it's only semi-functional).It will take us weeks to clear the trees and repair the damage. I read a newspaper article today that said Belchertown (my town) was the hardest hit community in Massachusetts. Still I know it could have been worse. We are safe, our house or cars were not damaged, we have wonderful family and friends that let us impose on them so we didn’t have to sleep in our freezing house, and we are now back in our house – appreciating the heat, flushing toilet, and lights more than ever before!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Trip to Canada for Genealogy - and Fun!

I spent most of last week in Canada. It was one of those work/fun trips - my favorite kind. The original purpose was to speak about my book and about the immigration experience to the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society for the Ryan Taylor Memorial lecture. Soon after I got the invitation, I began to develop a second part to this trip though. Ever since we moved to Massachusetts over five years ago, I have wanted to visit Quebec City. Once, I even had a trip in place to do it. My husband had meetings there and I convinced a friend to watch our (then) three kids for three days so I could go too. It was going to be a second honeymoon of sorts. But then, it turned out that the NGS (National Genealogical Society) Conference was going to be in Richmond at the same time - and that one of my magazine articles was going to receive an award from ISFHWE (International Society of Family HIstory and Writers). AND it turned out that I could get a plane ticket for less than $100 and stay at my brother's house in DC. In the end, I couldn't resist. I ditched the second honeymoon in favor of the genealogy conference. (Terrible, isn't it?)

But now I had a second chance - genealogy and vacation in one! We decided that the whole family would drive, spend a day in Quebec City, a day in Montreal, and a day in Ottawa (and lots of time driving too, of course). Initially I had thought it unfortuntate that the trip would take place in October instead of the summer, but I soon decided that the middle of October was perfect. The leaves on the drive through Vermont and in Canada were absolutely breathtaking.

It's a little embarrassing to admit that the only other time I had been to Canada was in 2004 when we went to Niagara Falls. Of course, we only spent four nights there this time, but it was fabulous. And, as I told the group, now I can put on my biography that I'm an internationally known speaker, right?

Here are a few highlights from the trip:

First, the classic photo of the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. Rachel (age 11) liked the old city so much, that she decided we should move there!

We also made a stop at the nearby Montmerency Falls.

Did you know Montreal is famous for its bagels? Two bagel shops compete for the title of "best bagels." The kids sampled bagels from both to determine who was the winner of what we called the "Great Bagel Debate." (I originally called the "Great Bagel War", but Sarah Ann (age 6) wanted to know if they used swords...) Christian slept through our taste test.

We loved Ottawa! The downtown area was beautiful - even better than I expected. We loved walking by the government buildings and the Rideau Canal.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Everything You Need to Know About German Research in Two Hours or Less

I guess I really am breaking back into this blogging thing slowly...Where does the time go?

As I mentioned in my last post, Friday I flew to Toledo, Ohio (actually, I flew into Detroit and then drove to Toledo)to do a two-hour seminar on Saturday at the Toledo Public Library on tracing German ancestors. First, I have to say that I get really excited when I get to talk about JUST German ancestors. I like to talk about lots of things, but since I am a resident of Massachsuetts and do the majority of my speaking engagements in New England, I don't get to do many lectures that focus exclusively on German research. It's just often too narrow of a topic around here. Now, the same is not true in Toledo because just about everyone from Toledo is German (well, okay - that may be an exaggeration - but not by much).

I had two hours to share with people everything they ever needed to know about tracing German ancestors. Well, as I'm sure you know - that's impossibe. German research is not the kind of topic that can be covered in much depth in two hours. So, that is where the challenge was: choosing which information to share. The program coordinator and I had worked together to select two of my already-prepared lectures: 1) Jumping Over Hurdles in German Research and 2) The Journey Takers: An Inside Look at the German Immigration Experience. It was a nice combination of talks. The first focused on sources and methodology and the second brought it together in a case study.

I felt good about the seminar and really enjoyed doing it. Still, when it was done, my head was still filled with all the other things I COULD have told the attendees about German research.

The main message I wanted to get across was this: German research is NOT impossible. You can do it. People get intimidated of German research easily - mostly because of the language barrier and the handwriting I think. But truthfully, I really believe that German research is easier than US research. When I told my audience that, they all looked at me like I was crazy. It takes a little while to used to German research, but once you do, it really is very manageable - and lots of fun too!

So why do I say German research is easier? The main reason is because German research relies very heavily on one source: parish records. There is no source as important to US research as parish records are to German research. So I am going to focus the rest of my comments on using parish records.

In order to access these local records, you need the name of your ancestor's German hometown. This is the first hurdle I talk about in my lecture - and for many researchers, the highest of the four hurdles.

Once you have a hometown, you need to access records (the records hurdle). First, you must figure out where your ancestors went to church. This may not be the same as their hometown, because many villages were too small to have churches of their own. You can utilize gazetteers to find this information. Very few German parish records are online. Fortunately, many have been microfilmed and can be ordered to your local family history center. Otherwise, you may have to write for them.

The third and fourth hurdles are almost a combination hurdle: language and handwriting. Here's my advice: take advantage of the resources available at www.familysearch.org. Click on the "learn" tab to search their wikis. Here, you will find word lists, letter-writing guides, and handwriting guides (as well as research guides). Be patient with yourself as you become familiar with the handwriting in particular. Go slowly and it will start to come together, little by little!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blog Awakening

It's been four months since I posted on my blog. I didn't plan to stop writing. I just did. It's not coincidence that my second to last post is seeking advice for burnout. Last year was an intense year. It was good intense, not bad intense. But it was still intense. I'm hoping to keep the good this year but loose some of the intensity. (I've found this is easier said than done though when you're the mom of four kids!)

Just to show how complete my burnout was, I hadn't even looked at my blog for probably three months. Then last week, I pulled it up. I thought about writing a post, but then I didn't. It's been in the back of my mind for a couple of days. Then tonight, I got an email from someone saying she missed my blog. It was just that little bit of motivation I needed to tip me off the fence - and into writing a blog post.

So, since I'm sure you've all been dying of suspense, I thought I would catch you up on what I've been doing the last four months instead of blogging! My book reached its one-year anniversary. I feel good about it's first year. I hope it will continue to reach people and I hope to continue speaking about it. But, I also somehow felt permission to slow down a bit now that the first year mark has passed. My speaking calendar has slowed back to a "normal" pace, instead of the fast-forward frenzy it was in. I'm excited about that. I love really love speaking to groups and I'm looking forward to my engagements this fall. I have two particularly exciting speaking adventures coming up. Tomorrow, I'm flying to Ohio where I will do a two-hour workshop at the Toledo Public Library on German research. Then, on October 15, I will be giving my book lecture as the Ryan Taylor Memorial Lecture for the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. My whole family will go with me on this trip (but don't worry - not to the lecture!). We decided to drive and make a five-day vacation of it, including overnights in Montreal and Quebec City. I've wanted to go to Quebec City since we moved to Massachusetts five years ago.

I've also been writing. I love writing! I finished a BIG project that I've been working on for some time and submitted it last Friday. That's one reason I feel ready to start blogging again. I don't want to say more about that right now, because there will be a long wait before I know anything else. Right now, I am just enjoying the accomplishment of having completed it. I have not done much magazine writing, but I am currently working on two articles for the Godfrey Update, a publication of the Godfrey Memorial Library. I've been writing for their semi-annual publication for several years now and enjoy that too.

And best of all, I've been spending lots of time with my family. My kids were home for the summer, of course. I really, really love summer. Mostly I love summer vacations. We had some great trips including a two-week trip where we drove to Austin, TX for my sister's wedding and saw some sites along the way such as Smoky Mountain National Park, Memphis, and Shenandoah National Park. We also spent four days in Acadia National Park (ME) later in the summer. It was beautiful. And, my husband and I flew to Brazil for a week in August. We laid on the tropical island beaches, hiked through a rainforest, listened to samba, fed mango to wild monkeys, and wandered the big city sites of Rio de Janiero. If I was motivated, I'd post photos - but I think I'll break back into this blogging through gradually. School has now started and the summer fun is over - back to fall craziness with an incredibly tight schedule and a little bit of chaos most of the time.

That's it in a nutshell I'd say. The question is...am I going to start blogging regularly again? I'm just going to blog when the desire strikes, and not worry if it doesn't. Hopefully, I'll blog about my Ohio trip and share some thoughts on tracing those tricky German ancestors.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Winchester Award

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had another award coming soon. Last night it was announced. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there. The Journey Takers received the Winchester Award from the Mormon History Association for the best thoroughly researched family or community history relating to the Mormon experience and published in 2010. The award was announced at their annual awards banquet held in conjunction with their conference, this year in St. George, UT.

You can see the Deseret News listing of the awards here. My award is listed on the second page. They gave out awards in several categories including some for graduate papers, thesis and dissertation awards, as well as a couple of other book awards.

I was very excited about the award – and sad I couldn’t attend the banquet. I actually considered going for a while – looking into plane ticket prices etc. I’ve never been to the Mormon History Association conference, but I’m sure I would love it. Maybe someday….

One of the reasons I couldn’t go was because my oldest (turning 11 on Monday) had her birthday party last night. It had a cat theme. Here are a couple of pictures.

Facepaint and headband ears turned all the kids into cats

My friend made this cute cat cake.

One of the funnest parts of the party was having the kids eat and drink like cats. They really got into it!

So, I could have been receiving this wonderful honor in St. George, but instead I was hot gluing fluffy pompoms to help the girls make their cat craft.

By the way, I plan to actually have a blog post with information for doing genealogy research soon! I have a post in mind about hints for finding your ancestors’ hometowns, so stay tuned…I’m feeling my burnout fading. I’m not sure if this is due to the award or the fact that we are taking a little trip to Cape Ann for Memorial Day. Can’t wait to sit on the sand (no way am I getting in that frigid water) on the beach – as long as it doesn’t rain!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Advice for Burn Out?

I should start my post by saying this is not an entry giving advice on avoiding getting burned out. It is a post seeking advice!

This last week I believe I have come down with a serious case of burn out. I hadn’t expected to come down with this ailment this spring. In my mind, I associate burn out with getting tired of doing something – or having to do something you don’t want to do anymore. That’s simply not how my burn out is functioning – and probably why I was surprised to get it. I am not having to do something I don’t want to do. And, I’m not really even tried of doing what I have been doing. I’m just tired in general.

I actually LOVE what I do. Although, like everyone else, my life is pulled in many directions, I tend to think of myself as having two major categories of demands. One is family. The other is work. This is not unique to me obviously. I thoroughly enjoy both aspects of my life. I love my four children (and my husband) and while I find it frazzling sometimes, I enjoy being a mom. And I love genealogy and writing and all that goes with it. Overall, I feel happy and content in my life. So why am I so burned out lately?

I think it has to do with intensity. It has been a very intense spring. In fact, as I thought about it I decided that this past year has been the most intense year of my life possibly second only to my second year of graduate school when I had a toddler and was miserably sick from being pregnant with our second child. It has not been a bad intensity (unlike that year in graduate school). It has been a good year filled with wonderful things – FILLED being the key word here.

Both categories of my life – family and work – have been extra busy for the past couple of months. My kids have intense schedules in the spring because this is when sports get going full swing. We also have all kinds of end-of-the-year events now – dance recitals, piano recitals, band concerts, programs at school etc. Add to that that three of my children have birthdays and I find that just keeping up with my family is a scramble. Then, spring is also perhaps the most intense time of year in the genealogy world. I have been doing a lot of speaking and book events lately too.

The result of all of this is that lately I have a burning desire to plan trips all the time. This is generally what happens to me when life gets stressful. I have been able to justify it because we actually do have some trips coming up this summer that I need to get the plans made for. We are driving to Texas for my sister’s wedding at the end of June and then taking our time coming back, spending time in Memphis, Smoky Mountain National Park, and Shenandoah National Park. In the past week, I’ve gotten all the details worked out about hotels etc. I have also reserved our hotels for Brazil in August and planned our basic itinerary and started looking into plans for a short trip to Acadia National Park we’ll make in August also. While this all has to be done sooner or later (and in the case of Texas, sooner), I am also aware in the back of my head that I am doing this now because I can’t bring myself to do some of the other things I need to do. Soon, I am going to run out of trips to plan and besides, my to-do list is growing.

I would love to hear thoughts from others. Does this happen to you? How do you avoid it? How do you cope with it once it happens?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

An Writing Award, a Review, and more to come....

Something went wrong with blogger for a few days, so my last post on "A Speaker's Perspective" appeared, then disappeared, then appeared two times in a row (all without me doing anything), but now appears to be right again.

I have a couple of exciting book news tidbits to share. First, this past weekend the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors had their annual awards banquet which takes place every year at the National Genealogical Society Conference. I was not in attendance this year (this week has already been the busiest one of the year for me....), but I just learned that my book excerpt, which was published in Family Chronicle last December, received first place for articles published in 2010. Hooray!

The excerpt is on my book's website. You can read it here. Just click on "excerpt" from the top. I read part of this excerpt in my book talk too!

I also just got an email from Miriam Robbins Midkiff letting my know that she has reviewed The Journey Takers on her blog, Ancestories. Yuu can read her review here. She concludes her review with this paragraph:

"Family historians will benefit greatly from this title for a variety of reasons. The depth and scope of research required to create a quality history of Huber's ancestors' lives is marked. The careful documentation and source citations are to be applauded. Creating a realistic and sequential narration out of the bare bones of facts is to be commended. To be able to research, analyze and synthesize the details of family historians' ancestors in such an interesting and valid manner is something to which we all should attain. Huber's book is a strong example of a fascinating story married to a quality researched work and as such would be a excellent addition to any genealogist's personal library."

If you're not familiar with Miriam's blog, you should check it out. It has been consistently rated in several places as one of the top genealogy blogs out there.

Finally, I got another exciting email last week about an upcoming book award. However, the banquet for this award hasn't taken place yet, so I'm not allowed to share for a couple weeks...(Is that obnoxious?)

I can't resist just two photos. My third child, Sarah Ann, turned six yesterday. We had her birthday party with 14 kids (counting three of mine - Christian was NOT invited)! Here's her with one of her two butterfly cakes and then one of the whole group (minus one child who preferred not to be in the photo). By the way, I gave three book talks last week and I just want to say that frosting those birthday cakes was WAY more stressful than any of the book talks!