How To Plan a Successful Family Reunion

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It is that time of year… a lot of families are planning events or joint vacations in order to touch base with their relatives. I have heard many heartwarming stories about events like these but I have also heard some heart wrenching ones.

If you have been saddled with the weighty responsibility of organizing a get-together for your relatives, here are 10 tips on how to plan a successful family reunion from familytreemagazine.com:

  1. Make a plan.  Start by picking a date and location.
  2. Recruit and delegate. No one person can manage all aspects of a family reunion. Surround yourself with capable and enthusiastic committee members.
  3. Create a command center. Keep your records organized. You’ll refer to them often.
  4. Build a budget. Keep your costs down or try to give the family plenty of lead time to budget. Give an idea of the price in the first mailing.
  5. Prepare a back up plan. If it is organized as an outdoor event, know what you will do in case of inclement weather.
  6. Get the word out. Flyers, emails, websites or all of the above. Try to build engagement and a sense of enthusiasm.
  7. Offer something for everyone. Offer a range of activities to meet varied ages and interests.
  8. Start with a bang. Getting everyone involved as they arrive is essential to setting the right    tone.
  9. Share your family’s story. Use the opportunity to make a family photo album (everyone brings pictures and create a page), a book of family stories, a video of reunion footage, or a family recipe book.
  10. Maintain the momentum. After the reunion, plan to keep in touch until the next one.

This blog post idea stemmed from a client who needed me to convert video footage of her family’s home movies so they could be played at their semi-annual family reunion. They have found that their “movie night” is the most popular segment of their time together.  There are now up to 40 family members who attend their reunions regularly and they have home movies that date back 50 or 60 years. Watching them as a group experience brings a certain hilarity that cannot be found anywhere else.

My client plans to purchase paper popcorn sleeves and make a grand time of it. I envy her. Nothing, absolutely nothing, brings a family closer together than the memories they share.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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Dust-filled Memories

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I filmed a section of a LifeStory last week. This is when we set up our cameras in the studio and give people an opportunity to record some of the memories they have of growing up in their day and time. This one involved a woman who, as a child, lived through what is sometimes called “The Dirty Thirties” – a period more commonly known as the Dust Bowl. Her recollections were harrowing, leading me to try to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of this US environmental disaster.

Here are some little known facts about the Dust Bowl, reprinted from an article by Christopher Klein which first appeared on History.com in 2012.

Families were driven out of the once fertile great plains by massive dust clouds–one that rose to 10,000 feet and reached as far as New York City.

1. One monster dust storm reached the Atlantic Ocean.

While “black blizzards” constantly menaced Plains states in the 1930s, a massive dust storm 2 miles high traveled 2,000 miles before hitting the East Coast on May 11, 1934. For five hours, a fog of prairie dirt enshrouded landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol, inside which lawmakers were debating a soil conservation bill. For East Coasters, the storm was a mere inconvenience—“Housewives kept busy,” read a New York Times subhead—compared to the tribulations endured by Dust Bowl residents.

2. The Dust Bowl was both a manmade and natural disaster.

Beginning with World War I, American wheat harvests flowed like gold as demand boomed. Lured by record wheat prices and promises by land developers that “rain follows the plow,” farmers powered by new gasoline tractors over-plowed and over-grazed the southern Plains. When the drought and Great Depression hit in the early 1930s, the wheat market collapsed. Once the oceans of wheat, which replaced the sea of prairie grass that anchored the topsoil into place, dried up, the land was defenseless against the winds that buffeted the Plains.

3. The ecosystem disruption unleashed plagues of jackrabbits and grasshoppers.

If the dust storms that turned daylight to darkness weren’t apocalyptic enough, seemingly biblical plagues of jackrabbits and grasshoppers descended on the Plains and destroyed whatever meager crops could grow. To combat the hundreds of thousands of jackrabbits that overran the Dust Bowl states in 1935, some towns staged “rabbit drives” in which townsmen corralled the jackrabbits in pens and smashed them to death with clubs and baseball bats. Thick clouds of grasshoppers—as large as 23,000 insects per acre, according to one estimate—also swept over farms and consumed everything in their wakes. “What the sun left, the grasshoppers took,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said during a fireside chat. The National Guard was called out to crush grasshoppers with tractors and burn infested fields, while the Civilian Conservation Corps spread an insecticide of arsenic, molasses and bran.

4. Proposed solutions were truly out-of-the-box.

There were few things desperate Dust Bowl residents didn’t try to make it rain. Some followed the old folklore of killing snakes and hanging them belly-up on fences. Others tried shock and awe. Farmers in one Texas town paid a self-professed rainmaker $500 to fire off rockets carrying an explosive mixture of dynamite and nitroglycerine to induce showers. Corporations also touted their products to the federal government as possible solutions. Sisalkraft proposed covering the farms with waterproof paper, while a New Jersey asphalt company suggested paving the Plains.

5. A newspaper reporter gave the Dust Bowl its name.

Associated Press reporter Robert Geiger opened his April 15, 1935, dispatch with this line: “Three little words achingly familiar on a Western farmer’s tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent—if it rains.” “Dust bowl” was probably a throwaway line for Geiger, since two days later he referred to the disaster zone as the “dust belt.” Nevertheless, within weeks the term had entered the national lexicon.

6. Dust storms crackled with powerful static electricity.

So much static electricity built up between the ground and airborne dust that blue flames leapt from barbed wire fences and well-wishers shaking hands could generate a spark so powerful it could knock them to the ground. Since static electricity could short out engines and car radios, motorists driving through dust storms dragged chains from the back of their automobiles to ground their cars.

7. The swirling dust proved deadly.

Those who inhaled the airborne prairie dust suffered coughing spasms, shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis and influenza. Much like miners, Dust Bowl residents exhibited signs of silicosis from breathing in the extremely fine silt particulates, which had high silica content. Dust pneumonia, called the “brown plague,” killed hundreds and was particularly lethal for infants, children and the elderly.

8. The federal government paid farmers to plow under fields and butcher livestock.

As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government purchased starving livestock for at least $1 a head. Livestock healthy enough to be butchered could fetch as much as $16 a head, with the meat used to feed homeless people living in Hoovervilles. The Soil Conservation Service, established in 1935, paid farmers to leave fields idle, employ land management techniques such as crop rotation and replant native prairie grasses. The federal government also bought more than 10 million acres and converted them to grasslands, some managed today by the U.S. Forest Service.

9. Most farm families did not flee the Dust Bowl.

John Steinbeck’s story of migrating tenant farmers in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” tends to obscure the fact that upwards of three-quarters of farmers in the Dust Bowl stayed put. Dust Bowl refugees did not flood California. Only 16,000 of the 1.2 million migrants to California during the 1930s came from the drought-stricken region. Most Dust Bowl refugees tended to move only to neighboring states.

10. Few “Okies” were actually from Oklahoma.

While farm families migrating to California during the 1930s, like the fictitious Joad family, were often derided as “Okies,” only one-fifth of them were actually from Oklahoma. (Plus, many of those Oklahoma migrants were from the eastern part of the state outside of the Dust Bowl.) “Okie” was a blanket term used to describe all agricultural migrants, no matter their home states. They were greeted with hostility and signs such as one in a California diner that read: “Okies and dogs not allowed inside.”

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Tale Of The Three Sisters

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I heard a new story today. Actually it is an old story… it was just one I hadn’t heard before. One of my clients was telling me about a place where he used to live. It was by the Blue Mountains of Australia. He described it by saying “imagine the Grand Canyon… only green and full of life.” He said he lived within walking distance from the three sisters.

When I said I didn’t know who the three sisters were, he told me the Aboriginal legend of ‘Meehni’, ‘Wimlah’ and ‘Gunnedoo’. They were three beautiful sisters of the Katoomba tribe. They were in love with three brothers who were from a neighboring tribe. Unfortunately, their tribal laws forbade any possible relationship from forming between them.

The brothers, being members of a warrior tribe, decided to take their chosen females by force. In order to protect the girls during the ensuing battle, a witch doctor cast a spell which turned the sisters into stone. The plan was to restore them to human form after the battle was over. Unfortunately the witch doctor was killed in the skirmish and no one else knew how to reverse the spell. And so the sisters remain – frozen in stone overlooking the lovely Jamison Valley in New South Wales, Australia.

What a sad story in such a beautiful location but it does answer a question I had. We were in Sedona Arizona last year when I noticed this unusual rock formation.

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I always wondered what happened to Snoopy.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

My First Blog… Over 20 Years Ago

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You may not know this but Memories Matter isn’t my first trip around the blogosphere. It has been a full ten years since I retired as The Christian Critic. Between 1998 and 2008, I wrote movie reviews and film commentaries under the name of Michael Elliott.  My reviews were published in the website/blog Movie Parables and in a few syndicated columns scattered across small towns.

My very first review was the Leonardo DiCaprio 1998 film, The Man In The Iron Mask. After that, over the next ten years, I reviewed pretty much every major film that was given a national release in the U.S. In addition to providing the traditional critical appraisal of the film, I added a unique twist. I looked for (and always managed to find) a way to use the film or an aspect of it to make a biblical connection.

For instance, the familiar quote from Mr. Spock in the Star Trek series “Live long and prosper,” is more than Vulcan greeting… it is a biblical promise that can be found in both Ephesians chapter 6 and 3 John chapter 1.

In the Disney animated classic, “Pinnochio.” Jimmy Cricket tell us that “a conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to.” The line has even more poignance when you replace the word conscience with God. After all, “a still small voice” is how He is described in 1 Kings 19.

Writing the Christian Critic blog was a great time of spiritual growth and development for me because it forced me to look at the world through the filter of God’s Word. In addition to reading the Bible for understanding, I began to see more clearly how it can be practically applied to our lives. God did not give us His Word just so we could read it… It is meant to be lived.

That blog led to the publication of two books, Thus Saith Hollywood (vol 1 and 2). They are still available on Amazon and, come to think of it, in my studio… I think I still have a carton left somewhere.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

 

Please Czech This Out

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Sometimes we just wait too long and then it is too late.

I spoke today with someone serving as caretaker for an elderly person. It is hard, especially when you’re caring for someone you care about. But the reality is that none of us are going to be around forever. We would be wise to take the opportunity while it exists to ask the questions and get information that will otherwise be lost for all time.

We offer a service that we call LifeStories. It’s where we sit an individual in front of a camera and ask them questions about their life: what their childhood was like; what events stood out for them during their lifetimes; what their fondest memories were. Their answers are recorded and preserved in a video format that can then be passed onto the family members, and preserved for generations to come.

Not doing something like this results in a hard lesson to learn. Inevitably, gaps in our understanding will come to light and we’ll wish we knew more about our ancestors and our family history.

Case in point: The above picture was found in a box filled with other photos belonging to my family.  I don’t know the people pictured. I don’t recognize the setting. I have no idea what the occasion was that prompted the picture to be taken. But it was apparently noteworthy enough to be included in a collection of our family memorabilia.

There is a clue. On the back side of the photo are non-English words scrawled in pen. I don’t speak the language. I’m thinking it is Czech, the nationality of my father’s side of the family. I post it here in case anyone can translate it for me.  It may be nothing. It could mean everything.  No way for me to know.

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I plugged it into a Siri driven translator and it came back with the following: “This is a shoe shooter Terom – the son of a bathtub slips the torch eo mu pomrala heraz feathers.”  Perhaps it is just me but somehow I think Siri’s translation may be a bit faulty.

If only I had taken the time and effort to learn more about my father’s parents and their past while they were here to answer those questions. #MemoriesMatter.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Digital Video Archive

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It was a relatively slow day in the studio today. So I spent the time catching up on the video transfers in my queue. I find that more and more people are requesting transfers of videotapes to computer files on usb drives instead of getting DVD disks. And we are happy to do that for them. And we still process a large number of DVD disks. And we are happy to do that as well. But we do have a third option – developed specifically for us. We call it DVA, Digital Video Archive.

Last year, during our corporate getaway, a few of us teamed together to do a western tribute to our DVA product.  I have it posted below. DVA brings the best of the DVD features (chapter markers, authoring capabilities) to a streaming technology. It allows you the ultimate flexibility to watch and share your home movies – wherever you are, whenever you want.  Call us for more information.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, here’s the award winning short film: The DVA Kid.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Say U.N.C.L.E.

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I had a client in my studio today who made a living out of buying and selling heavy equipment at auction. Sounds like a dream job for any boy who once spent hours on the floor with his trucks and cars. I don’t think I was ever that kid. I don’t remember being as infatuated with big trucks or heavy machines like my sons were or my nephews were at a young age.  Me, I was more into role-playing.

I would spend hours protecting the snow covered neighborhood as Batman… climbing snowplowed mounds pretending they were mountains. My younger sister tagged along as Robin until she got too cold.

Whenever anyone in our neighborhood bought a new appliance and the box it was packed in appeared outside their house, it immediately became a fort or log cabin as I took on the persona of Roy Rogers. The girl next door was an adequate stand-in for Dale Evans.

But one Christmas, I received the coolest gift ever.  I was around 9 years old and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a bit hit for NBC. I was gifted a genuine U.N.C.L.E briefcase with combination locks, agent i.d.s, a plastic gun with a silencer, passports, walkie talkies connected by string, and hidden compartments galore. I went from cartoon crimefighter to cowboy hero to genuine superspy.

For the next year, I was a man from U.N.C.L.E…. I opted to be Napoleon Solo because I didn’t know how to pronounce Ilya Kuryakin. I also believe this was the year that proved to be my last foray into the make believe world of pretending. I can’t remember play-acting after that. But it sure was fun while it lasted.

For the uninitiated, U.N.C.L.E stood for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) and Ilya Kuryakin (played by David McCallum) were the top agents who took their orders from Alexander Waverly (played by Leo G. Carroll). Their nemesis were the agents of Thrush, whose primary goal was, what else?, to take over the world. In my neighborhood, I and I alone was responsible for stopping them.  At least until my gun broke and I lost my agent id.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Viva La Similarité

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I have been asked repeatedly, “Do you write your own blogs or did you hire someone?” When I assure them that I write all my own stuff they quickly follow up with “Where do you find the time?” or “Where do you get the ideas on what to write about?”

If you haven’t picked up on the theme of my blog as yet, it is based on a simple truism. Memories matter. Each one of us is a walking encyclopedia of experiences. We wake up, experience life, go back to sleep. And repeat day after day.

When I started my Home Video Studio business, people started bringing their memories to me for preservation. And it struck me, in an age when our differences are continually being magnified or exploited in what appears to me to be an orchestrated attempt to keep walls or divides between us, how similar our memories are. Despite all the cultural, racial, economic, philosophical, political, or gender specific labels that can be used to highlight our differences, our memories seem to prove the opposite. They unite us in a deeply personal and profound way.

We tend to record the same kind of events and for the same reasons. Our memories spark the same emotions within us; bring the same smile to our lips; cause the same tears to be shed. When a customer comes in and tells me what memory he or she is looking to have preserved, it is never hard for me to relate. I have the same kind of memories and I know how important they are to me.

Most if not all of my blog posts come directly from a shared memory that I have been reminded of by working with or talking to my clients. I never seem to have writers block because we all have a vast memory vault from which to pull treasures.

Yes, we are all different because we are all unique individuals. But within our differences there is plenty of common ground upon which we can stand. Share a memory with someone today. You may be surprised to see where it will lead.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

This Blog Post Is Brought To You By The Letter R

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The good old days may have indeed been old but they weren’t always 100% good.  I certainly had my share of trials and tribulations. Like anytime I was asked to speak.

I had trouble with the letter R as a young boy. Don’t know why. I just couldn’t form certain sounds with my mouth. And all those sounds somehow involved an R. To this day, I can’t be friends with anyone named Rory unless I give him a nickname.  Spike would be a good choice. I can say Spike.

I distinctly remember the summer before I started “real” school. Kindergarten was for kids. But I was graduating to the numbered grades. I was proud and ready to go. Until… All summer long, my parents would bring their friends over to the house and inevitably get them to ask me one question: “What grade will you be in this year?” I was taught to always answer an adult’s question. So I would dutifully respond, “Fust… I’m going to fust grade.” And that response was always rewarded with a gale of laughter.

I became a voracious reader of the thesaurus – finding words I could use to communicate while trying to avoid the “er” sound. Fust grade was awful… made tolerable only because I had a young pretty teacher, Miss Muella (actually Mueller but well, you now know my problem).  But I stuck it out and aced fust grade. And I graduated into, God be praised, second grade! I could say that all day long.  I couldn’t wait for my parent’s friends to ask me now what grade I’ll be in.

That summer, I had my opportunity… my parents had some house party and we were trotted out to pay our respects. And the question was asked… “What grade will you be in this year?” Without hesitation, I stood tall and proclaimed with perfect elocution, “Second! I will be in second grade.” I wasn’t expecting a follow up question.  “And what grade will you be in next year?” “Thud,” I blurted out without thinking. And my heart sank as the laughter rose around me.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Cry Me A River

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Tears are shed relatively freely in our studio. Most of the times they are happy tears… but not always. Memories can dredge up emotions and can bring back the pain of loss or hurt. Our clients know they will always find a compassionate ear or empathetic shoulder on which to lean at such times. And we stock a large supply of tissue.

We’ve seen octogenarians shed tears watching footage of their now adult grandchildren as kids and being reminded of how quickly life has passed.

We’ve had people break down simply by hearing the long forgotten voice of a family member who had departed this earth decades earlier.

We’ve helped families plan memorial video presentations for their loved ones even as they grapple with the deepest emotional pain they’ve ever experienced.

We get it. We understand. And we are right there for you. Because as sometimes painful as they are, memories do matter.  Because with the passage of time, our sadness will eventually fade. And when it does, it is the memories that we have worked to save or preserve that will bring us comfort, joy, and happiness. Sometimes, it feels like they are the only things that can.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.