Archive | January 2014

Keeping Your Family Safe, Online: Avoiding CryptoLocker is Key

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Image courtesy of scottchan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Brrr… it sure is cold out there! Well, at least for those of us who live in states where this winter has been particularly harsh. For those of us (like me!) who are not snow bunnies, venturing out into these frigid temperatures is not appealing. Whereas there are many worthwhile indoor activities, many people find themselves spending more time watching television, playing video games, or trolling the World Wide Web.

Cybercrime: Online Thieves Hit Target 

Given that computers are such an integral part of our lives, this is a good time to take a look at how secure your computer and its contents really are. Many of us have received exaggerated emails, forwarded by friends or family, warning of the latest computer virus. Although such dramatic occurrences do not happen on a regular basis, viruses and other kinds of cybercrime do indeed happen. In mid-December, Target learned that criminals forced their way into their systems and took guest information, including debit and credit card data; as well as the names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of their customers. Some of you may have been affected by this serious breach of security as my family was through our online account.

The Buzz About CryptoLocker

No matter what concern you have about your personal information or data, the time to protect your computer is before it is infiltrated. There is no such thing as too much protection or backup for your computer, documents, and email. Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about a type of “ransom ware” called CryptoLocker Trojan. Yet according to technology experts, CryptoLocker Trojan is only an evolution of “ransom ware,” as this type of crime ware can be traced back as far as 1989. Although CryptoLocker, which first appeared in early 2013, is not a revolutionary new ransom ware, it has generated more attention than any of its predecessors. It has built upon similar previous ransom ware programs, yet used new tactics and techniques to extort money from users.

Ransom ware is a type of malware that encrypts files on the system’s hard drive, or restricts access to an infected computer system – demanding that a “ransom” be paid to the creator of the malware for the restriction to be removed, and files decrypted, so they can once again be opened. Referred to as “scare ware,” sometimes the messages displayed on a user’s computer screen can be quite threatening and are intended to be so – intimidating or scaring the user into paying.

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Ransom Ware: The Dirty Details

Details of how ransom ware typically works to infect a computer system are disturbing. Ransom ware often enters a computer system when a user clicks on a questionable website or email/attachment, downloads an infected file, or has an unprotected network. It then multiplies as a trojan or conventional computer worm and runs a payload such as one that will begin to encrypt personal files on the hard drive. The ransom ware payloads then display notices that appear to have come from legitimate companies or law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. The notices falsely claim that the system has been used for illegal activities or contains illegal content – for example pornography, and pirated software or media. Some ransom ware payloads even imitate Windows XP’s product activation notices, falsely stating that the user’s computer Windows installation is counterfeit or needs to be reactivated to work effectively. In some cases, the virus uses your webcam to take a picture of you and display it back – even more frightening!

Through a complex system called public-key cryptography, only the malware writer knows the needed private decryption key to lift the “restrictions.” In a common scenario, the cyber-criminals tell you your computer will be permanently locked, or you may even be arrested, if you don’t pay a $200 fine. The ransom ware will demand payment and threaten to delete the “private key” if payment is not received within 3 days. Sometimes ransom prices can reach into four figures. Users must pay to obtain the private key and begin decrypting files, which computer analysts have said is very difficult to repair due to the extremely large key size CryptoLocker uses. It may even be impossible to remove if it locks up your PC.

Virus Alert: Green Dot Moneypack 

A frightening example of this form of scare ware was presented in an article by John Matarese, published on the website SearchSecurity as part of the “Don’t Waste Your Money” series. As a woman sat down at her PC early last year, an unknown web page with the FBI logo appeared on her screen – along with an alert stating that she had visited an illegal website. Therefore, she was being locked out of her web access until she paid a $200 fine through a Green Dot Money Pack card.

What aroused her suspicion, though, is the mode by which the “FBI” wanted payment delivered – through a reloadable debit card from a drugstore. It was then that she knew this was online extortion at its worst. Fortunately, the woman and her husband were able to Google search on their smartphones for a way to remove what is being called the “FBI Green Dot Moneypack Virus.”

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Recovering from a Computer Virus

Although this couple was fortunate they were able to conduct a self-clean, system restore on their own, this is not always the case in such ransom ware situations. If this happens to you, do not touch your computer or manipulate it in any way until you have searched on another computer for the fix. Better yet, call a computer repair shop for assistance from a trained expert. It is reported by security experts that removing CryptoLocker now requires a full wipe of your hard drive and, therefore, losing all your files.

Stories such as this one remind us that it is very important to be absolutely sure of the email, attachment, downloadable file, or website source with which you are about to interact. It takes just one wrong click to wipe out scores of valuable personal and business data from your computer system. CryptoLocker can even search for files to encrypt on USB sticks and shared network drives. CryptoLocker’s encryption capabilities are much more sophisticated than previous versions of ransom ware and therefore more difficult, if not impossible, to repair and restore.

Any email or online notice from the government is a scam, especially if it does not include your name in the notice. That is not how government agencies such as the FBI or IRS operate. They will not email you or post notices on your computer screen accusing you of wrongdoing, violating laws, or committing a crime. Rather, they will write – or even show up at your door!

Tips to Share with Your Family and Friends:

• Never wire money or pay by Pay Pal, Green Dot card, or any other payment method to a threat.
• Never open strange, unexpected attachments to any email you receive.
• Put protective measures in place on your computer system to avoid any form of ransom ware or malware in the first place.
• Conduct regular computer system backups.
• Use a reputable technology company to protect your computers through security-based programming.
• Add another layer of authentication to sensitive files, or encrypt and password-protect them.

Businesses usually have protective security measures and defenses in place, including robust spam filters, attachment blocking and multiple layers of security. These type of ransom ware viruses are actually a greater threat to the everyday PC user – to consumers, since often they don’t have those kinds of protection tools. Unfortunately, users facing CryptoLocker likely have few options for successful restoration of their files. While the malware itself can be relatively easily scrubbed from the system, the already-encrypted files will remain encrypted since it is nearly impossible to crack the encryption.

If your computer system does become infected:

• Unplug your computer immediately. On a desktop PC, quick action may limit the damage because it takes time for the malware to encrypt every file it has targeted.
• Do not use the infected computer to search for ways to repair the damage.
• Contact a computer store or technology expert for restoration assistance.

How Do I Know So Much About This Anyway?

Ransomware 6I am thrilled to be a technical writer for Provident Technology, a Philadelphia-based IT company, which also performs computer services remotely. Provident Technology offers solid protection and security through their Managed Services, and is worth looking into for peace of mind. You may think that occasionally backing your computer up on a “zip” drive preserves your data. However, as mentioned above, the files on USB sticks can become encrypted as well. Additionally, zip drives can “go bad” and need replacing.

For my peace of mind, I recently purchased backup and monitoring services for my computer through Provident Technology for a very low monthly fee. With these services in place now, I know that my computer and its data is monitored 24/7, and protected from viruses and cybercrime. I also know that in the unfortunate event that something disastrous should occur, all my data is backed up and I can never lose it. For this writer, having all of the projects I have worked so hard on permanently protected is invaluable!

Have you ever had your computer infected by a virus, or your personal data compromised in another way? If so, what did you do about it? Do you have additional tips for our readers on how to protect your computer system? Please share your thoughts and advice with us!

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Researching your family tree: How to get started

My mom, grandmother, and uncle on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 1953.

My mom, grandmother, and uncle on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 1953.

By Chris Little

Maybe you’ve got an old photograph on your piano of your mother when she was a girl, that day she took a trip with her family to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Or maybe you remember that great story your grandmother once told you about meeting your grandfather at a USO dance. I still remember my great-aunt telling me about working the air traffic control tower of her regional airport during World War II because all the men were deployed.

If we’re lucky, we’ve got a few of those half-remembered stories swirling around in the backs of our minds. And someday, if we’re even luckier, they’ll swirl from the back to the front and demand that we learn more about them. Let’s say that someday is today, and you’d like to start learning more about your family stories—and the people who starred in them. Where to start? Here are some strategies:

Go to the source. If you’re fortunate enough to have older relatives still living, pay them a visit! Or at least a phone call. Ask them to tell you anything they can about their youth, their parents and grandparents, and the times they lived in. What kind of car did they drive? What did they do for work during the Depression? What are some of their favorite memories of their childhood? Take a notebook—or better yet, a video or audio recorder. These stories are priceless! And if they have a stash of photographs or scrapbooks, ask if you can take a look.

Draft a tree. Start with your parents and grandparents. Note their dates of birth and death, when and who they married, and where they’re buried. How far back can you go? Don’t worry if you have more information for one branch of your family tree than another, and don’t worry if your tree is largely bare at this point. Filling it in is the fun part!

Go online. Now you can start exploring your family tree on Ancestry.com—it’s easy and just as private as you want it to be. Again, start with what you know, then search for possible connections in preceding generations.

Go online some more. Try Googling the names of your grandparents, great-grandparents, and other ancestors as far back as you can go. There’s so much genealogical information online, and more being digitized every day, there’s no telling what you’ll turn up.

Scavenge for facts. Does your family have any old scrapbooks or photographs you can look through? Check inside the front cover of your grandmother’s old family Bible—there’s probably a trove of names and dates recorded there. Talk to your cousins—do any of them have material that could help fill in gaps in your tree?

Do your legwork. Visit the historical societies in the town(s) where your ancestors lived, and the libraries where their hometown newspapers may be archived. Stop in at the churches where they worshipped and ask if you can look for your ancestor in their records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths. Be sure to keep detailed records of everything you find—preferably photocopies.

Talk about it! Tell your friends and relatives what you’re doing—you never know where your next lead or research strategy might come from.

Educate yourself. Subscribe to genealogy blogs and other websites that offer research strategies. One of the fun blogs I follow is Out Here Studying Stones, whose author one day suggested searching for an ancestor’s passport application on Ancestry.com. I’d never thought of it! I knew my great-grandparents had been to Europe in 1909, so I searched for my great-grandfather’s passport application. Bingo! Within five minutes I had his childhood address and his hair and eye color—information I’d not been able to find previously.

Along those lines, here are a few sites that are helpful for getting started on genealogy research:

  • Here’s a nice free tutorial on Family Search, a site operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
  • Here’s another that explains how to use the National Archives for doing your research.
  • Here’s another, from the National Genealogical Society.
  • And here Family Tree magazine lists the top 40 genealogy blogs for 2013.

Share what you know. As you develop knowledge about your family and expertise about researching it, consider sharing what you’ve learned, whether in a blog or a self-published family history book. Giving people the opportunity to respond to your work will help you develop your skills—and could take your research off in new and fruitful directions.

You can start by letting us know some of your research strategies and successes, right here in the comment box below!

One Foot on the Merry-Go-Round

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By Karen Hendricks

“Doing it All” (or should I say #DoingItAll) was the theme of a week-long series by Maria Shriver on the “Today” show last week. I identified with many of the women depicted in the stories, as they tried to juggle careers, children, marriages, family, financial concerns, special needs children, and free (me) time. While all of our circumstances are slightly different, the underlying theme is the same for nearly all women… Why do we feel the need to do it all, and do it all well? Do we feel pressured to do it all? Does society expect us to do it all?

By the way, The Merry-Go-Round = DoingItAll.

Along those same lines, The Atlantic recently ran a story titled “Moms who cut back at work are happier.” It’s based upon new statistics from the Pew Research Center, finding that growing numbers of women are making career sacrifices in order to spend more time with their families. Hello?! This is exactly what Off the Merry-Go-Round is about! How wonderful to know we are not alone.

Here are the latest stats:

  • 65% of mothers say they have been motivated by their families to make sacrifices for work—anything from quitting a job to turning down a promotion
  • 46% of the above women who made family-related career sacrifices report they are “very happy” with their lives
  • 53% of married mothers with children under the age of 18 say their ideal career would allow them to work part-time… compared to 23% who said full-time… and 23% who said they’d prefer not to work at all

The article goes on to contrast these findings with the scads of recent news stories about women “leaning in” and making great career strides. I want to say, that I am all for equality in the workplace, and I applaud strong women accomplishing great things and breaking down stereotypes. However as someone who once leaned in, I am happy to now lean back a bit and focus on my family. It was a conscious decision on my part. I love working part time, setting my own hours, selecting projects and clients—the ball is in my court—and it all revolves around my family.

So for me, personally, the stereotype I run into is this: People expect that once you have “done it all” that you should continue DoingItAll. So to hear that 65% of mothers say they too have made sacrifices in their career lives… that is extremely gratifying. Maybe the tide is turning and society will start seeing beyond women’s careers in judging their status in life. Raising wonderful children into productive, kind adults should count among the world’s toughest—and most rewarding—assignments.

Last week, the magazine Working Mother retweeted the following: “I don’t see a problem with women leaving the workforce for family. I see a problem with them being unable to get back in.” (Lauren R. Parker) That may be the next chapter down the road for some of us, as our children grow, leave the nest, and we attempt to re-enter the full-time job market.

Back to The Atlantic… I admire how W. Bradford Wilcox summarizes it all up in his article:

This data suggests that one reason married mothers who make work sacrifices are happier is that they would prefer to scale back at work—at least for some portion of their lives as mothers—and are happier when they can do so.

This reality is often glossed over in the public conversation about work, women, and family, but as Catherine Rampell at The New York Times observed: “Not everyone aspires to be an executive at Facebook, like [Sheryl] Sandberg, or to set foreign policy, like Anne-Marie Slaughter” (author of “Why Women Can’t Have It All”).” Instead, as K.J. Dell’Antonia put it, most women are “striving for flexibility and balance” when it comes to juggling their aspirations for success at home and work.

Again, in the public conversation and the formulation of public policies regarding work and family, let us not forget that the happiest married mothers are those who are able to lean homeward, at least for a season in their lives.

So here’s how it all boils down for me:

I have jumped off the full-time Merry-Go-Round of DoingItAll. Now, having one foot on the merry-go-round, working part-time, still involves a good amount of juggling but it’s manageable and fulfilling. I have no regrets about putting my family first. Good friends truly understand this and are supportive. And if people aren’t supportive then they are missing the point, missing the importance of family, and I truly feel sad for them. DoingItAll is indeed possible, for periods of time—however, some area(s) of your life will suffer. I think the real secret to DoingItAll is to give yourself the gift of grace… because there are times in your life when you simply can’t do it all. And that’s ok.

What’s In a Name: Part Two

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

On January 13, I turned – well, let’s just say another year older. Over the course of my life, I have had many successes. One of them, however, has not been getting people to call me by the name given me at birth – Jennifer. Instead, in many cases, I have been an unwilling participant in being addressed by a name that those around me wish to call me: Jen (most dreaded); Jenny (eh…); Guinevere (not too bad); Glenda (long story).

In Part One of “What’s In a Name,” I lamented about all of this. Then, after taking a big sigh, I provided a list of etiquette tips for addressing people which may be used in social situations and in the business world. In doing so, my hope was to help raise awareness that a person’s name really is important to them; and that to treat it as less than that is not only impolite and disrespectful, it can be hurtful as well.

A social slip-up with a name botch or introduction flounder can be easier to recover from than a serious business blunder that offends a top CEO. So, for those of us involved in careers – whether outside the home or working from home, here in Part Two I offer tips for how to exhibit professional behaviors and employ formalities that will keep you in good favor with your colleagues and supervisors.

But first, an important review of those etiquette tips for addressing people – from Part One:

Address a person using the name by which you are introduced – unless and until they tell you otherwise. For example, a new employee at work is introduced to you as ‘Michael.’ You shake hands and continue to address him as Michael until he says, “Please, call me Mike.” Then, Mike it is!
If you are unsure as to what name a person would like to be addressed, ask.
Don’t make assumptions. Because one person goes by ‘Mike,’ not all Michael’s wish to be addressed as such.
In regular situations, it is best to use both a person’s first and last name when making introductions. To use only a first name is not introducing the total person.
In a professional setting, keep the forms of address equal. If you use Ms. Smith, you must use Mr. Brown. You should not say, “Mary, this is Mr. Brown.”
Mention something about the people you are introducing. This will give them a starting point for their own conversation. “Mary Smith, this is Joe Brown. Joe shares your alma mater.”

A successful introduction requires foresight and using proper etiquette. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A successful introduction requires foresight and using proper etiquette. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Below are helpful hints for addressing those with whom you work and interact with professionally, as well as making proper business introductions. I left out formalities for introducing dignitaries and other notable people, such as elected officials, though if you know you will be in that situation I suggest you research the styles most often used in diplomatic and international arenas.

The first person’s name you say is always the most important person in terms of rank and status. In business, these are the typical determinants as to who is introduced first; gender and age are usually not factors in a professional situation.
Following this initial introduction, everyone else’s name is introduced to that most important person.

On Advanced Etiquette’s internet site, specific wording for making introductions is addressed (www.advancedetiquette.com). For a formal introduction, it is strongly emphasized to never use the word “meet” when introducing people because the emphasis will be thrown off the most important person to the wrong person. Readers are asked to identify who is the Chief Financial Officer and who is the newly hired staff member, in the below introduction:

Jane Doe, I would like you to meet John Smith.”

If, by following proper introduction “protocol” in which the most important person introduced is the first one, the CFO is Jane. However, by the way this sentence reads, John is the more important person. To keep things clear, it is suggested that you use the words “this is” as the bridge between saying the most important person’s name first and then introducing the second person as in:

Jane Doe this is John Smith, our new staff member. Jane Doe is our CFO.”

The Advanced Etiquette site also cautions against getting too wordy when using the word “introduce” and suggests that saying, “Jane Doe may I introduce John Smith” is preferable to may I introduce to you (correct, yet wordy); or may I introduce you to (incorrect because switching the words “to you” to “you to” once again directs the emphasis away from the most important person.

Albeit, some might perceive these etiquette rules as “over the top.” At your next opportunity, however, pay close attention to how people meet and greet, talk, and interact in a business setting. Those who are able to do so properly, professionally, and seamlessly really do stand out among those who cannot “hold their own” in this regard. If you also want to appear knowledgeable and well-spoken, it will benefit you to brush up on how to address and introduce those with whom you are involved professionally. Similarly, in a social setting you will make everyone around you feel comfortable, respected, and as though you are truly interested in them!

So ... what IS in a name? Photo credit: Pinterest

So … what IS in a name? Photo credit: Pinterest

These etiquette rules may not always be easy to remember, yet they can become a more natural part of your daily interactions if you just put them into practice. The easiest way to remember a person’s name is simply to use it – and people feel important and valued when you do. There is no better way to connect with others, and be seen as someone who can move about comfortably in professional and social circles, then to truly understand what’s in a name!

  • Do you have any “mind tricks” you use to remember names when introduced to new people at a social event?
  • What do you think about the etiquette tips shared in this two-part blog series – whether for a social or a business setting? Are your colleagues and business associates making proper introductions?
  • Do you believe some of these “rules” of introduction are still relevant in today’s business world? Is this an important part of doing business?
  • Any thoughts and insights you have will be helpful to our readers, and we are interested to know your opinions – please share!

Baking Buddies and Corn Cakes

Corn Cakes... wintertime comfort food!

Corn Cakes… wintertime comfort food!

By Karen Hendricks

One of the nicest things I can say about the winter season is… it’s a great time for baking. Nothing makes the house feel quite so cozy, combatting winter’s frigid temps.

We were recently approached by The New York Baking Company and asked to review their new product, reusable silicone baking cups called Baking Buddies. Full disclosure: a set of Baking Buddies was provided at no cost to us.

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It was the perfect opportunity to whip up a batch of cornbread muffins—something I love to make—but then hate the cleanup associated with standard muffin tins. And paper cupcake wrappers always seem to stick and/or pull off too much of the moist cornbread.

So I put the Baking Buddies, a set of 12 brightly-colored cups, to the test with my favorite corn cake recipe… one that I’ve made a zillion times. It’s definitely a tried-and-true family fave. I think the secret is to use real butter and that touch of real vanilla… plus a quality cornmeal.

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Love the old-fashioned packaging on my favorite cornmeal, made locally in Lancaster County, PA

 

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Don’t you just love the texture of cornmeal?

Corn Cakes / Cornbread:

  • 1/4 c butter
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 2 c flour
  • 1 c cornmeal
  • 2 t baking powder
  • Dash of salt

Directions:

  • Using electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla. Add flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Beat just until smooth.
  • For corn cakes (muffins), spoon into a muffin pan and bake at 350 for 20 min. Makes one dozen.
  • For cornbread, pour into 9×9” pan and bake at 350 for 30 min. Cool slightly; cut into squares.
All mixed up!

All mixed up!

 

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So I ladled the batter right into the Baking Buddies, as I would normally do with muffin tins. After baking, the moment of truth came… would the company’s claim of nonstick, flexible and “easy release” cups hold true? Yes—the corn cakes popped right out with very little residue left inside the cups. Two more important points: They are dishwasher-safe and carry a lifetime guarantee. If your family makes as many muffins and cupcakes as our family does, you will definitely recoup their pricetag of $9.95 by crossing “cupcake liners” off your grocery list during 2014—and beyond.

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The muffins came out of the silicone cups very easily!

Links and More Info:

Click here for more info on Brinser’s Cornmeal

Stay warm this winter and bake often! 🙂

Delish!

Delish!

 

Commuting from Work to Home… When Home is Where You Work

By Jen Ashenfelter

One benefit of working in an office is the commute home. The 15, 30 or 45 minutes of “me time” between the office and home = valuable transition time from work to family. Whether singing with the radio turned up too loud, finishing another chapter of an audio book, or organizing your thoughts on the evening To Do list, the ability to disconnect from the office is essential for maintaining sanity.

But if you work from home like I do, then you feel the loss of that all-important “evening commute.” I’ll take working from home over being in an office any day, but creating that transition period should still be part of the routine.

My dining room table is my desk which makes walking away from work more challenging. With the computer staring back at me, there’s always one more email, one more sentence to write, or one more items to cross off the To Do list.  Meanwhile, everyone is coming through the door requiring my help or waiting for dinner. (Note: The ability to multi-task with my attention … and patience… simultaneously divided between work and home is a chaotic scene at best.)

Recreate that "welcome home" feeling...

Recreate that “welcome home” feeling…

Here are my tips and ideas for creating that transition time between work and home when you work from home:

Schedule. First, decide when your work day is officially over and schedule a “commute time” into your daily routine. Develop a plan of action—without one, there’s no doubt your “commute time” will get shorter and shorter before there is no transition from work to family. (I hear you, making the time is easier said than done, and believe me, I know. There will be days when work takes over but if you give yourself the period—however brief—to transition, you and your family will be happier.) 

Leave. Back away from the computer, files and phone, and physically leave the house. Walk the dog, train for that upcoming 5K, go to the grocery store, or stand in the yard and stare at the sky—doesn’t matter what you do as long as you pass through the door and return later. This will give you the best sense of separation of office and home. Of course, weather extremes such as a polar vortex, record-breaking heat wave, or super storm, may require an alternate plan…

Read. Find a book you hate to put down. When all you want to do is bury your face in that book, quitting time will be easier. (Warning: A riveting story could cause a longer commute.)

Bake. I don’t usually have home-baked goodies in the house for dessert but when the urge for a delicious treat takes hold, cooking seems more fun and less annoying…and you’ll score dinner-time points with the family.

Listen. The right music can adjust a crabby attitude, lift your spirits, or make you dance, so crank up the volume and let loose.

Play. From crossword puzzles to knitting to gardening, set time aside for your favorite activity.

Socialize. Call your sister or best friend to catch up. Invite a few mothers from the neighborhood or school to pop by to chat over a glass of iced tea (or wine). Attend a networking event with people you know in the community. Working from home can be socially isolating so add activities with other professionals, family or friends into your schedule.

With a few moments to unwind from work before getting involved with family responsibilities, you’ll feel less rushed and stressed and, hopefully, much happier. Do you have a “commute time” routine or ideas for making the transition from work to family fun and easy? We’d love for you to share your thoughts on this topic.

Researching a Family History: Why Bother?

My great-grandmother with her children, c. 1918

By Chris Little

As I mentioned a few months ago here, I’ve been working on a biography of my great-grandmother lately. It’s been a lot of work, but also deeply meaningful and awfully interesting—yet I’ve noticed that whenever I talk about the project, I find myself trying to explain exactly why I’m doing it. I mean, I spend a good part of every day up to my eyebrows in a dusty journal, or struggling to make out the ornate handwriting on a crusty envelope, or squinting through a magnifying lens at a faded black-and-white photograph. Then, when it’s time to get dinner ready and I return, almost literally, to the land of the living—the living aren’t all that interested! And if I have questions about the meaning or significance of something I learn in my research, virtually everyone I could ask is dead. In fact, I meet dead ends almost everywhere I turn. So … why am I doing this?

But then there’s the deeply meaningful part, which is what keeps me plugging away on this project. Here are some of the reasons why I find this family research so important and rewarding:

Paul 1910 in Mpls (hand on post)

My great-grandfather in 1910, age 27.

Honoring the past. In some fundamental ways, our ancestors weren’t that different from us. Sure, they may have worn bustles and corsets, but like us, they loved their children and wanted them to have happy, successful lives. Some undertook great sacrifices and trials to give their children safe and productive futures. When we take the time to learn about, understand, and record the lives of our ancestors, we honor them and deepen the meaning of the struggles and sacrifices they made for their children and their children’s children—for us. What better way to show our gratitude to them, than by making the effort to understand them?

Enhancing the present. My grandmother is no longer living, but I remember how my interest in her life created a great bond between us. She loved to tell me stories about her youth, about her mother (whose life I’m now researching), and about what she knew of the generations leading up to hers. I learned a lot from my grandmother, but more than that, I treasure the memories of those conversations and the pleasure they gave her. Taking the time to ask our elders about their lives and their memories of their parents and grandparents—and then listening deeply to their answers—presents our loved ones with a gift we all share.

Linking the past and future. Studies show that families that have a sense of connection across generations are stronger and more resilient—you can read my post about that here. How will you forge that connection between your grandparents and your grandchildren unless you know something about your grandparents’ lives—their stories and histories? Today, of course, my kids aren’t that interested in my research, but one day, I hope, they’ll be middle-aged adults themselves, perhaps with an interest in their past. Then they’ll be able to use my work to help them find their place in the march of generations.

To be honest, this work feels somewhat urgent to me, because if I don’t do it, who will? When it comes down to it, I’m the one with the journals and letters and photographs in my basement. No person still alive on this planet knows as much as I do about my great-grandmother. I feel a deep responsibility to preserve what’s left of her life in a way that will give others meaningful access to it. With the sense of responsibility though, comes a sense of privilege. I’m grateful for the opportunity!

My great-uncles, c. 1925

My great-uncles, c. 1925

Having some fun! Sure, sometimes it’s frustrating, when I can’t figure out what that scribble on the page is supposed to mean, or when I can’t find the address for some old relative’s home, or when I come up for air at the end of a work session with little progress to show for it …. but when I do find that birth year, make that connection, or otherwise develop an insight into my great-grandmother’s life, it’s like solving a puzzle, and who doesn’t love a puzzle?

I realize that not everyone has boxes of family artifacts lying around in their basements. Some might only have a couple of old unlabeled photos, maybe just the names of their grandparents. Don’t despair! There are all kinds of great resources online for researching your family history—Ancestry.com being the biggest and best. Start with the names of your parents, and see what comes up! Then share some of your stories here—we’d love to hear them!