March, 31, 2016

How one man inspired me to produce life story films

One of the best things about my job is meeting amazing people from families just like yours.

Documenting and sharing their stories with their families is my life’s calling, something I realized five years ago when I was recording Lou Zandoli’s life story.

After a few interview sessions, I started to really get into the deep, emotional nitty-gritty, and I knew that I was meant to do this work! If you’re curious, you can watch a short clip of Lou’s story.

Think about your loved ones. Whose stories do you want to preserve for future generations?

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March, 15, 2016

Documenting Family Recipes in Film: Aunt Mazella’s Pound Cake

No one made pound cake like Umi’s Aunt Mazella.

“Her cake made everyone happy,” Umi says. “It won so many prizes, and whenever anybody got together together to have a chance to eat her cake, it was the talk of the conversation.”

Umi’s story about the pound cake, which StoryKeep recorded a few years ago, tells us so much about what Aunt Mazella was like: generous, meticulous, and warm-hearted.

Check out this five-minute version of the story (above), and look for the recipe!

StoryKeep helps preserve family legacies by capturing and organizing all sorts of stories, including tales from the kitchen.

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March, 7, 2016

What Are Heirloom Portraits and How Can I Create Them?

jewelry_small

Let me introduce you to Rachel LaCour Niesen, the founder of Save Family Photos. Rachel is a photographer, and like me, is perpetually inspired by other people’s family photos. Her site offers buckets of fabulous resources for people looking to record their stories. One of her recent resources is a guest blog post that my colleague Veronica Olson and I wrote entitled, “What are Heirloom Portraits and How Can You Create Them for Your Family?”

Here’s the how-to-guide we shared on Save Family Photos.

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February, 26, 2016

How (and Why) We Frame Life Stories

It’s February – time for our second video about the joy and excitement of capturing family stories.

In this 90-second clip, StoryKeep founder Jamie Yuenger talks about the difference between a collection of family heirlooms and a StoryKeep project. Hint: It’s about the frame!

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February, 12, 2016

Rusi and Gover’s Engagement Story

The story of how Rusi proposed to Gover on a balcony in Bombay over 60 years ago is the stuff of family legend. StoryKeep was able to capture the story in gorgeous detail for future generations of the Sanjana family to enjoy. Check out the lovely 4-minute version above.

Rusi and Gover’s love story was at the heart of the Sanjanas’ StoryKeep project, which was commissioned by their children and included a multimedia documentary and a 168-page book.

“We wanted, not just for our own family, but for all our relatives and friends, to be able to capture that loving spirit of both of them and hold it for posterity,” their daughter, Aroza, told us recently.

We interviewed Rusi and Gover three times and turned the footage into 18 short stories, including one about their courtship and marriage. The proposal story, in which Rusi uses a racy joke to pop the question to his unsuspecting fiancée-to-be, is a special highlight.

The book we produced for the Sanjanas included stories and photographs from over 100 years of family history, going from Rusi and Gover’s ancestors all the way to the present. Aroza said she learned so much about her parents’ families, childhood, and life experiences.

“Now that we have [the project] completed, we have this feeling of completion, that we’ve captured so much for posterity,” Aroza said. “We can watch this on our TVs, computers, and iPhones whenever we need a little boost.”

Chances are you’ve got some amazing stories in your family (maybe even a few love stories!).

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January, 29, 2016

Kelly and Ivy’s Story

StoryKeep - 18

Allison McSorley Photography

Many families we work with want to capture somebody later in life. Kelly, on the other hand, wanted StoryKeep to help capture a moment in her daughter’s life and her reflections on being “Ivy’s mom.”

So for one year, StoryKeep gave Kelly ideas for recording the little moments in Ivy’s life – bathtime, reading together, playing with friends – as she grew from a bouncy toddler into a little girl. (We loaned Kelly a professional audio recorder for this.) Listening back over the recordings, Kelly was amazed by how much Ivy’s voice changed in just half a year.

A single mother by choice, Kelly also wanted to make sure that Ivy would always be able to listen to her mom’s voice. If Ivy ever wondered, “What was my birth story?” or “What was it like when I was little?” she would have these recordings. With this in mind, we periodically recorded Kelly’s thoughts and stories about motherhood.

This is a 5-minute snippet (approved by Kelly, of course) of the two 45-minute audio pieces we produced together. As you listen to it, consider the precious people in your life. Now’s the time to capture their fleeting moments and memories. Your StoryKeep project would make the ultimate graduation, birthday, or Mother’s Day gift.

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January, 8, 2016

Capturing Childhood: The Peach-Slurping Game

https://vimeo.com/149340545

We’re kicking off 2016 with a new video series about the excitement and joy of capturing family stories.

Each bite-sized clip features StoryKeep founder Jamie Yuenger sharing a personal story or an experience working with a family. (Learn more about Jamie.)

Today’s episode, “Peach Slurping,” is about a silly game Jamie played with her younger brother, Jake, when they were kids.

What silly games did you play as a kid? Share your story in the comments section, or on our Facebook page. We look forward to hearing them.

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December, 17, 2015

Recording Around the Hearth: The Montauk Storytelling Event

I became a member of the Montauk Club when I first moved to Brooklyn ten years ago. The Venetian Gothic architecture struck me first, the creative cocktails second.

When I heard that the Montauk Club was celebrating its 125th anniversary, I thought StoryKeep might be able to help the club put its rich history to work. What would happen if we showcased its community and traditions for current and prospective members?

Dino
Dino Veronese recalls Christmas at the Montauk Club.

I got in touch with Leslie McKinley of the club’s History Committee, and together we conceived “Growing Up at the Club,” an evening of storytelling in which members would share their memories of the club going back half a century. StoryKeep would facilitate a cozy storytelling evening, then turn the recordings into a short audio piece that Montauk would share on its website and through social media.

The event was held in mid-November on the ground floor of the Montauk’s clubhouse in Park Slope. We arranged three rows of chairs, a couch, a coffee table, a lamp and a rug to create a “living room” where people would be comfortable telling stories.

Allan Kramer tells his Montauk story.
Allan Kramer tells his Montauk story.

Three generations of members took turns coming up to the couch. Each reminisced about the past – the Easter-egg hunts, the birthday parties. Dino Veronese, a former club president who’s also its longest-standing member – he joined in 1960 – told one of the most memorable stories of the night. You can listen to it here:

The stories they told re-affirmed their sense of community, reminding old members of decades of shared experiences. Behind every rosy childhood memory, or the recollections of a parent or new member, was a “thank you” to the person, often someone in the audience, who made it possible. There was so much love in the room – we were simply blown away!

Thank you to Montauk, to everybody who attended, and to the History Committee – specifically Leslie McKinley – for helping to organize it.

We’re looking forward to doing more events like this one. Maybe your organization wants to capture its memories? Email us at info@storykeep.org or call 347-762-6575.

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September, 1, 2015

Death is the new black: a lively interview with funeral director Amy Cunningham

Interview by Jamie Yuenger

Amy Cunningham

Amy Cunningham is a licensed funeral director in New York City and owner of Fitting Tribute Funeral Services. She specializes in green burial, home vigils, and personalized cremation services at Green-Wood Cemetery’s crematory chapels in Brooklyn. Her creative work with affordable funerals has gained her the notice of the NYTimes, and she was recently named one of the “Nine Most Innovative Funeral Professionals” in the country by FuneralOne, a leading voice for change in the funeral industry. Amy has trained as a funeral celebrant, completed home vigil and end-of-life doula training, and studied Jewish Tahara ritual. In her previous life, Amy was a magazine writer and blogger, covering healthy living, holistic spirituality, yoga and meditation for the award-winning website Beliefnet.com. Her current blog is called “The Inspired Funeral.”

You’re a female funeral director in Brooklyn, New York. You were recently named one of “The 9 Most Innovative Funeral Professionals” by FuneralOne. What’s your angle on the funeral business?

When I started mortuary school in 2009, I sensed that we, as a society, had mastered the wedding — we’ve got wedding websites, magazines, glorious nuptial how-to’s— while the funeral is neglected and desperately in need of help. I’m not the only one hip to this. My work now as a funeral director is supported by all my experiences as a magazine journalist, a yoga-practicing nut-and-berry person, wife and mother of sons in a mixed-faith family. I personally am representative of several dramatic changes in today’s end-of-life industry. First, yes, I’m a woman coming into a field that was quite male-dominated, and I believe that the future of the funeral will be female-informed. It will be planned more collaboratively with grieving family members, and it will place considerably less emphasis on the chemical preservation of the body, which is all well and good for those demanding it, but not at all necessary for everybody.

Newer, fresher funeral options might include a casket-decorating service before a cremation takes place, or a green burial in a biodegradable willow or pine casket with clever ways to memorialize the deceased that might include unusual gestures, poems, flowers or pieces of music. My mantra seems to be, “Yes, you can do that!” I know that a memorable experience with a personal stamp is apt to make grieving people feel better, and I’ve had success with that strategy.

Photo by Karsten Moran of the NYTimes

Photo by Karsten Moran of the NYTimes

What custom (from the past or present) do you wish you could incorporate into more funerals?

I think I’d start with the death itself. While this is not strictly my domain as a funeral director, I try to guide caretakers of the dying toward hospice care, which allows the terminally ill to die at home and opens doors to home vigils and family-centered funeral services. The old-fashioned wake with the deceased resting in a place of honor is perfectly legal, and it’s healing. No blinking lights, uniformed nurses, or hospital hallways. The moment of death can then revolve around family photos, cups of tea, friends offering food and hugs. A vigil like this can last thirty minutes or longer with dry ice on hand to keep the body cool, which is pretty close to what they used to do in the old days. This isn’t for every family, but it helps the people who opt for it to relax around the reality of death.

Bereavement experts are now thinking that the Victorians weren’t so crazy with all their mourning customs. So I’d also like to see the memorial wreath with black ribbon on the front door make a comeback, a more formal announcement of, “Hey, things are different around here, and we don’t mind announcing it.”

Can you recall a time when a grieving person gave you some insight on how to do your job better?

Five years of experience have enlightened me to the sweeping range of reactions people have as a loved one departs forever, never to be viewed in precisely that form again. People in the throes of tremendous, painful loss behave unpredictably. I’ve felt I’ve known what they wanted. I’ve mostly been right, but then I’ve been wrong, too. Or I’ve offered them tenderness when they actually wanted precision and better funeral marching orders.

I hope to evolve with every funeral. You’ve got to be mindful, receptive, creative, and a careful listener if you want to stay helpful and relevant in this business.

You try to weave people’s stories into their funeral services. What’s your process?

Continue Reading

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August, 19, 2015

Troubled Corner of Prospect Park Set for Revamp

Last month, we published an interview in which Prospect Park historian Amy Peck talked about being an “accidental” archivist and searching for a time capsule buried in 1966, among other things.

Shortly thereafter, we came across a New York Times article about plans to renovate two elements of the park’s neglected northeast corner: the Vale of Cashmere and the Rose Garden.

The Vale of Cashmere

Vale of Cashmere today

The Vale of Cashmere, 1930. The name was inspired by a Thomas Moore poem. Prospect Park Archives

Vale of Cashmere, 1930

Great names, right?

Just don’t get too close. According to the Times, the two locations are “notorious for drug transactions and sexual activity” that has “scared off local residents.”

That’s about the change.

The Prospect Park Alliance is planning a capital campaign ahead of the park’s 150-year anniversary next year to pay for improvements like refilling the Vale of Cashmere’s sunken reflecting pool, where model sailboats once tacked and jibed. (The name was inspired by a Thomas Moore poem.)

The Rose Garden, now rose-less, could become a sculpture garden, amphitheater, or something else entirely, said Sue Donoghue, president of the Prospect Park Alliance, which runs the 585-acre park in Brooklyn.

The Rose Garden

Rose Garden today

The Rose Garden, 1915. Museum of the City of New York

Rose Garden, 1915

Whatever happens, we hope that the renovations will inspire park-goers to rediscover these forgotten nooks and learn more about their history.

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