Mothers and Sisters, Who Are Not!
 ANNIE PRESLEY

ANNIE PRESLEY

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This weekend I found myself crumbling apart over the gorgeous renovation and expansion of the sorority house where I lived 3 out of my four college years.  Who woulda thunk tough old me would be standing among friends, in tears? Crying for the love we shared way back when and still share today. There is no way to value that marvel, other than what my wet face showed.

There are biological moms and biological sisters.  And then there are those who are not.  These were those whom I was among on Saturday.  These were those who stood me up, hugged me and pushed me through.  What I experienced in the late seventies during our college years was demonstrated again this weekend…some 40 years later.  

In my world, moms die unexpectedly.  Mine, when I was twelve.  Four women in our house had moms who died while we were in school.  I was literally and figuratively the president of The Dead Moms Club at the sorority house. It was a tight little group who talked among ourselves for therapy and tried not to share too much drama with our 80 housemates.  There is nothing worse than a non-stop, talk-about-myself-all-the-time drama queen. Really.nothing.worse!

And then there were these non-biological sisters who sailed seamlessly into my world.  Over time, they have shared their lives, their children, their gifts and their love with me in ways that are nearly inexplicable. Somehow, what we learned about one another in the seventies is the glue that binds us together still today. 

It’s a blessing, a miracle, a privilege to have these friends.  They are indeed sorority sisters; veritable strangers one day and familial the next. But nearly biological sisters too.  In that “I-know-all-about-you-and-still-love-you-anyway” kind of way.

But for them, my life would not be as rich and full as it is today. I fear the outcome that might have been without the opportunity to live with 85 women in one big house where growing up, learning manners, getting smarter, and envisioning our futures was encouraged.  In many ways this was demanded through national fraternal policies and expectations…making grades, giving back, proper behavior around young men, not licking your knife at the table…all added up to a big advantage for me.  

Lacking my own mom, I essentially won the sorority lottery and was instantly blessed with successful, and some demanding, role models. Essentially, they saved my life. I was nurtured, respected and appreciated. As a result, I am giving back. I am confident that the system will stay healthy and support others the way it did me. My gratitude was evident. I was embraced all over again by those who helped make me who I am today.

There is one word: grace, and yet there is another: thankful. 

For all the non-biological family out there…it matters! This is my story. Have you told yours?

With love and respect,  

Annie-the-Guru

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Children Love To Hear Stories About Their Younger Years
 CHRISTY HOWARD   

CHRISTY HOWARD

 

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That is precisely why Annie and I wrote Read This…® On Your Birthday. We all know we are living in a wildly busy world, and it seems to be getting busier by the week. In all this frenzy,  our good intentions are sometimes hard to implement. My cousin Amy recently told me she always had good intentions, but now she is determined to execute on her good intentions so her actions reflect what she always wanted to do. She is doing a great job of that and her story stuck with me. (Hold on — I’ll get back to that in a jiffy.)

We all know how children of all ages love to hear stories about their earlier years. The cute or funny things they did. The things people who love them/who they love were proud of. We adults think we will remember all those moments and we take gobs of photos to catalog it all, but we lose track. We keep pushing through the next “busyness" we have scheduled. 

Read This…®On Your Birthday provides a quick solution so those stories or situations don’t get lost over time! You simply pull off the shelf every year on a child’s birthday and write some quick answers to fun questions. The child can participate, too, by answering what they want to do when they grow up…and their “part” grows with them over time. Then you put it back on the shelf until the next year. Those simple, quick steps on the birthday every year become a tradition and add up to the story of the child’s life. AND it is SIMPLE! So it helps us execute on those good intentions (just like Amy is doing).

Who fills it out? Well it just depends on the situation!

  • Maybe a mom or dad
  • Maybe a grandma or grandpa (a great new-grandma or new grandpa gift)
  • My long-time friend Char can attest to how much grandchildren cherish notes from their grandparents.
  • Maybe a Godparent
  • Maybe an aunt or uncle
  • Maybe a combination of all of those special people in a child’s life!

No matter who does it, it becomes a treasure for that child.  —  A gift of lasting love. And one that is manageable in our crazy busy world filled with good intentions... 

Love,
Christy

It’s National Home Improvement Month
 ANNIE PRESLEY

ANNIE PRESLEY

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Your home is likely your biggest asset, so it is a great idea to keep it in tip-top shape. Whether you are staying or planning a move, according to HGTV these are the top 15 projects[1] that pay off over the long haul. 

Any of the following can be done for less than $10,000 and will be appreciated for years to come!  Consider…

  • Bathroom update: fresh paint, replace shower doors, new knobs, happy towels.
  • Landscaping: sod, a splash of seasonal flowers, hardscape, enhanced entry to your home
  • Kitchen refresh: paint walls and/cabinet, new knobs and pulls, change counter top
  • Curb appeal: paint/replace the front door, repair stairs, bricks, concrete, add container plants
  • Window replacement: update look, weather resistance and new triple pane glass

For major remodeling projects, in the $10,000 to $40,000 range, consider…

  • Kitchen overhaul: replace appliances, seating, cabinets, flooring, lighting, add built-in gadgets
  • Bathroom overhaul: replace tub, toilet, lavatory, cabinets, tile, lighting, closet components
  • Patio, screened-in porch or deck addition:  new outdoor area with furniture, rugs and pillows
  • Attic conversion: flooring, ceiling, lighting, furniture, and new insulation
  • New room addition: basement, office, bedroom, TV room, play room

Be sure to hire an accomplished designer and contractor to help you with decision making and work with confidence that these investments will be worthwhile.  

Enjoy!

Annie

[1] https://www.hgtv.com/design/real-estate/top-home-updates-that-pay-off-pictures

Who's On Your Heirplane?
 ANNIE PRESLEY

ANNIE PRESLEY

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Yes, guilty! I made this word up. My sister and I make up words all the time.  We are silly.

But this is a serious topic that needs consideration…who are your heirs? Have you taken the time to write down your story, identify who gets your most precious stuff, and plan out your final wishes?  

These three topics make up the sections in our guided journal we lovingly refer to as our “Dead” book since it is the first book in our Read This…® series. Over and over we hear from people who wish to gather their thoughts, organize their things, and share their funeral plans.

Obviously, an actual airplane transports people from one place to another.  So, will your Heirplane…it will convey your stories, deliver your favorite possessions, and unload the details of your good-bye as you move to your final resting place. 

A poll taken by Gallup (1) in 2016 suggests that at least 56% of Americans do not have a will.  This means their stories, stuff and funeral wishes will be left to the court system and Uncle Sam to sort out.  Egads! What better gift can you leave your loved ones than a seat on your Heirplane!

Consider your Heirplane the mechanism to peacefully transfer this precious cargo to your people, your heirs. You will need a Will, a Living Trust, a Power of Attorney, and perhaps a few other legal documents to avoid leaving without a trace! Certainly, do some research online or visit an attorney to discuss. Be sure to tell your heirs that they have a reserved seat on your Heirplane. Nothing could be sweeter than to hear those words!

(1) http://news.gallup.com/poll/191651/majority-not.aspx

What Happens When We Stop Sending Love Letters?
 CHRISTY HOWARD   

CHRISTY HOWARD

 

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I smile every time I hear a story about shoeboxes of love letters between couples. I’m talking about those letters from their romance of days gone by. Or how about loving letters between parents or grandparents and the children they loved back when snail mail was the only mail. Think of opening those letters years later to read the loving thoughts they contained. The thought of it makes me smile. It feels warm. 

One example that moves me is a letter hanging on the wall, framed, at one of my friends’ homes. It is a letter from a young man in college to his grandmother - written many decades ago. The young man wrote the letter during his college days. It starts with an update about school and activities, but then transitions into girls. He says something like: he has met girls, but "no girl holds a candle to Karen." His grandma saved the letter. The young lovebirds married and had three children. His grandma saved the letter which became the keystone in the couple’s home. Filled with honesty and warmth, the letter has become part of their family history. Their grandchildren will read the letter that their grandfather wrote to his grandmother about his love for Karen - their grandma. The framed letter is a constant reminder of the love the boy had for the girl…and from that love a whole family grew.  

Flash forward to today. Texting and social media are the norm. A loving thought is often sent fast and then lost or buried in a stream. Or it is designed to disappear. Either way, it is gone. It doesn’t become part of the fabric of a relationship like that framed letter or the letters tucked away in a closet. The history and rooting vanish. When times are hard or we need a reminder about the love we have shared, where do we look for the thoughts and feelings? Sure we can find photos in the cloud, but where are the thoughts, the ones you might write privately? It feels empty in comparison.

Written notes whether short or long seem to come alive. They root and grow. They inspire and provide comfort. They make you laugh. They provide context. – All of that is a true gift. I’m thankful for the people in my life who have written me letters and notes with loving thoughts. 

That is why I am passionate about guided journals. They give you a place to jot your thoughts down. The really good ones about the people you love. A special space. And they become a roadmap for your loved ones to follow when they find themselves lost in the clutter of today - and tomorrow. They know exactly where to look to find your words/your thoughts/your guidance. However you do it, please write it down!

Love,
Christy

Sharing Our Stories
 ANNIE PRESLEY

ANNIE PRESLEY

Because we write a series of “guided journals” and our first is called Read This…® When I’m Dead, we spend a fair amount of time talking about how we came to write this book with such a provocative title. We answer simply, the topic was on our hearts. Christy’s mom has lived with a terrible disease for 37 years and my mom just dropped dead one day when I was a kid. We decided that between us, there is a lot of material on the topic of death and dying that needs to be brought out into the open. We set out to change the conversation and we feel like it is beginning to happen!

Just this week I ran across a website from the UK that is also devoted to encouraging people to document their lives, plan and share their final wishes. We all know that our culture is really crummy when it comes to actually talking about dying. Despite the nightly news being consumed with the tragic ways people die every day, we rarely take a proactive approach to sharing our stories, our dreams and our plans for the twilight years, with those who we consider our loved ones, our heirs. One of my most vibrant childhood memories is standing in front of mom’s closet, with my baby sister on my hip, trying to figure out which dress was mom’s favorite. We were trying to decide what to bury her in. Who knew?

Take a look at this film http://bit.ly/2eRwTgo from www.DyingMatters.org. It is fascinating. The highlights are spoken from the voice of the dead or dying person. It is not creepy, I promise. One little story is about a dog left behind, now homeless, because his human forgot to make arrangements for him. Ugh.

Somehow, we need to find a way to put aside the idea that dying is not going to happen and embrace our lives. Christy and I happily recommend tackling this important effort, one story at a time.

Cheers,
Annie-the-guru

 

What is Escheat? OR Don’t Lose My Money!
 CHRISTY HOWARD

CHRISTY HOWARD

Money. We work so hard for it. We save it. We count it. We invest it. So how is it that there are billions (yes with a B) of dollars of “unclaimed money” in the United States? Could you actually misplace or forget about some of your money? Could your heirs easily find all of your accounts?

Today I learned first-hand just how easily this can happen. We moved so I went to the bank to change the address on our accounts. Click, click, click. The teller smiled and said, “The address has been changed on all your accounts.” It was done.

Or was it? Our number of accounts didn’t match. The teller was missing one account I knew I had. I went home to grab a statement and called. There it was. My account. The friendly voice explained, “Oh, the tellers do not have access to this screen with these types of statements/accounts.” Wait, What?

Would I have continued to push if I had been an heir, or would I have assumed the account number changed or was closed? An heir might not know for certain. Had I died and my heirs knew to go to that bank, but didn’t know the account number or have the right phone number …all that money could have been lost. We would have relied on the bank to alert my estate. Hahahahaha! We moved and our address changed. Mail is only forwarded for a few months. By the time the bank knew I had died, the mail would likely be returned if they did send something to our original address.

Turns out this happens all the time. With bank accounts, insurance policies, certificates of deposit, safe deposit boxes, pensions, retirement funds…all sorts of financial transactions. We know mail is only forwarded for a few months…and you might not have left financial account passwords for someone to easily find. OH WOW!

So how much money is lost? In 2016 it was TENS OF BILLIONS of dollars. Simply gone. According to some sources, 1 in 3 Americans were effected. Sometimes it is forgetfulness. Sometimes it is confusion. Sometimes we are just busy and drop a ball. Technically, after a period of inactivity, the financial institution is required to send “unclaimed” money to the state. This is called ESCHEAT.

Escheat laws were originally intended to create a “lost and found” for each state. If there is no activity on an account for 3-7 years, the process can begin. Owners don’t always get their money back. So, the burden is yours to keep track of your money. All of it!

What’s the takeaway here?

Find a safe place where you can store copies of all your statements with account names and numbers. It can be on your computer, in a fireproof cabinet, or an online vault. Be sure to list life insurance information, also. Make sure it is a safe place that your heirs, attorney or financial planner can access. Of course, I keep my info in our book, Read This…® When I’m Dead.

But now I’m even more inspired to keep everything organized and up-to-date!

Christy

http://money.cnn.com/2013/01/24/pf/unclaimed-money/index.html
http://www.bankrate.com/investing/does-the-state-have-your-money

Did you say “Selfie-Obit?”
 ANNIE PRESLEY

ANNIE PRESLEY

Self-written obituaries, also known as “autobituaries”, have become increasingly popular during the age of social media. Gone are the days of the funeral director quizzing family members for the deceased’s basic information. Even longer gone are the days of newspapers with an obituary writer on staff who wrote it for you.

Now it’s all about how you WANT to be remembered! Write it, store it, tell someone where you put it, update it, use it! If you want help getting started, email me annie@ReadThis.guru and I will send you the worksheet I distribute during the presentations I lead on the topic!!

If you shudder at the thought of writing your own obituary because it causes you to contemplate your own death, consider a challenge Ernest Hemingway once said was his best work. The assignment: describe Your Life in Six Words. He wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” So try this _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________.

If you are ready, go for it! All you need is a pencil, preferably with an eraser and a small notebook. Check your local paper for real-time examples. Be creative. Here are five reasons to start now!

  1. You can tell your story in your own words (no one knows I won a yo-yo contest and got my picture in the paper when I was 12)
  2. Figuring out who and what matters to you is invigorating (and a surprisingly easy list to make)
  3. It saves your family from having to write it (they will be so happy that you did it)
  4. Recalling favorite memories is a boost for your soul (one memory leads to another and all the sudden you have the past, present and future altogether)
  5. Go ahead, use your favorite photo! (reading a book at the beach is my favorite)
  6. Watch the recently released movie starring Shirley McLaine as Harriet, a retired businesswoman with a tart tongue who tries to control everything. She hires a young journalist to help her write her obituary and the truth comes out! See a clip here… www.LastWordMovie.com It is hilarious!

Enjoy the journey,
Annie-the-guru

 

Hospice Humor
 ANNIE PRESLEY

ANNIE PRESLEY

Just hours after we buried my husband’s sweet mama, after just a few days in hospice, we sat down with her husband of 37 years.  Jay’s stepdad is 95 and he kept saying what we all had expected...that he was supposed to die first.  He didn’t.  It’s unfathomable to him and to us as well.  He’s tired and has been for a long time.  He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  He worked outdoors doing manual labor all his life.  At 90 he was still working as a janitor three days a week.  Exhaustion finally set in at 92.  He’s been in and out of hospice care the last 15 months.  We know all the kind and caring nurses by their first names.

His dementia was in full swing after a long week of death, funeral planning, greeting family members and burying his wife.  As we talked that evening he said to me, “I am grateful to Jay and Jean (Jay’s younger sister) for the kindness they have shown me all these years.”  Interestingly he was speaking of my husband while they were seated side-by-side. Then he said, “But I just wish they came around more often.”  This made us wide-eyed as Jay and Jean had both been with him almost constantly for the last two weeks and consistently over the 37 years.  They had cared for their mom and stepdad while both lived out of town and always appreciated the care their step-dad gave their mom after her first husband, and their dad, died unexpectedly of cancer while Jay and Jean were in college.  In the step parent lottery, he was a winner.  It was easy for them to provide him with ample attention and appreciation all those 37 years he was married to their mom.

Immediately Jay said to his step-dad, “Hey, I heard Jay has a cute girlfriend named Annie.”  Without missing a beat his stepdad said to Jay, “Oh yeah, I know Annie.  She’s pretty cute.  He should marry her”!  

What On Earth Is A Guided Journal?
 CHRISTY HOWARD

CHRISTY HOWARD

We aren’t in the habit of writing traditional books...the kind you think of with a story line or photos about someone else or some amazing novel

We created a guided journal series!  What on earth is that? It is a book full of space for you to write your thoughts. It’s all about you!  What we have learned, and what makes us come to work every day is you. It is the people who reach out to us and say things like:

  • I had the best conversation of my life with my mother in her final days as we used your Guided Journal to talk about all the things we hadn’t really discussed before.
     
  • My wife just died and we used to remember our marriage together by talking. If we had filled out Read This…® On Our Anniversary life would be different. (Tearfully.)  I’m buying your anniversary Guided Journal for my son who has been married over 20 years — so this won’t happen to them.
     
  • I’m filling out Birthday right now for my youngest. I’m buying another copy to try to remember “back in time” for my other children. I now know that I can’t remember those things that I wanted to tell them about them.

Every day we put thought and research into our craft — creating guided journals for people so they can Celebrate Life’s Treasures. These books capture the stories of people’s lives crafted around a subject. They are meaningful. The people and memories they celebrate are treasures.

Thank you for being a part of our community and for sharing your stories with us. We are looking forward to launching our fourth Guided Journal later this year!

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

Funeral - With Birthday Cake
 CHRISTY HOWARD

CHRISTY HOWARD

Life lessons come along whether you are looking for them or not. I had one on my last birthday. Yes my cousin did present me with a special birthday cake at the house a few hours after her husband’s funeral. I was attempting to “overlook” my birthday, but they didn’t. They are that kind of family. And that is the point, really. 

Jim was one of the most powerful men I have ever met. At over 350 muscled lbs. this beloved offensive line coach in a Texas high school had, with his wonderful family, built a life of community. From school and coaching to church and just about everyone they met, Jim and Priscilla, my cousin, built bonds. — The kind of family that routinely takes others in and includes them in their lives. And that community responded not out of pity for Jim’s valiant battle with Pancreatic Cancer, but because they honestly loved him and his family, and considered them their own. 

As I listened to the friends who spoke at the funeral (a coach, a cousin/BFF, and a prior high school player turned pro athlete), the theme became clear.  Jim always had a game plan for the team (the sports team or the family…whatever). Even for fighting the last battle of his life. His mantra was that known to offensive coaches: Keep your feet moving. In other words, he lived with purpose for himself and his team and kept going, building and including others.

Jim and the family he fiercely loved have become part of the community they relocated to 11 years earlier. Like fabric. He is still a part of it even after his way-too-early passing. I witnessed it. And his family, led by his wife, is still building community. Who else thinks to give someone a birthday cake hours after a funeral? — With a smile and a hug. Really. Who does that? The answer: A family that lives community and one who will keep their feet moving, just as Jim would have wanted.

Jim, you built a fantastic life. Way too short, but I vow to #tellyourstory because it has been one of the honors of my life to know you and to have witnessed what you and your family built. And I am writing your mantra and this part of your story on page 57 of my filled out Read This...® When I'm Dead guided journal. #ScottStrong

Blockbuster Author John Grisham Leaves Me Tongue-Tied!
 ANNIE PRESLEY

ANNIE PRESLEY

When 300-million-books-in-40-languages author John Grisham came to Kansas City in 2010, I had the opportunity to visit with him briefly. We were standing in the “green room” waiting for him to go on stage as the headliner at an event I was producing for the KC chapter of The Midwest Innocence Project.

Perhaps others have also blurted out to him as I did that evening, “I’m thinking of writing a book!” He smiled politely and said, “Do it’ then continued, ‘don’t worry about getting on Amazon in a big hurry. Figure out how to sell your books before you go there.’” Clearly the look on my face must have been that of confusion as his smile turned into a grin. Amazon was the ONLY way to sell a book wasn’t it? The big box stores were going out of business and Jeff Bezos had only recently declared his intent to kill independent bookstores.

As I stammered, “Wait, how do you sell a bunch of books without being on Amazon?” He laughed and said “Out of the trunk of your car!” Wait, what? Remember his book A Time to Kill that became a huge movie hit? Yep, turns out he started out selling it from the trunk of his very own car!

So that’s what we did too. We have sold books out of our cars in parking lots, driveways and at community gatherings. At first it felt a little sketchy, but of course Grisham was right, it worked. In fact, it’s still working! We took our time, became acquainted with the industry and learned to sell our books a few at a time. Only recently did we join the Amazon family. But, do not despair, you can still buy any of our books out of the trunk of my car! Just give me time and place and I will happily meet you!

From a mom…
 ANNIE PRESLEY

ANNIE PRESLEY

Recently, I was inspired by a woman who ordered our book online.  When I emailed to let her know the book was shipping, I asked how she came to learn about it.  Seems she saw an article published in the Lee's Summit Lifestyle magazine.  And seems she is only 40, with kids, and facing "metastatic triple negative breast cancer stage 3b."  Ugh. 

My hearts cracked open as I read her email.  She continued, "I've accepted the reality of the diagnosis and just want to be sure my kids and family have everything they need should I pass at a young age".  Oh dear I think, wishing mightily that what she describes won't happen, but knowing from my own experience that eventually it will.  I admire her brave demeanor in the face of adversity.  I just plain admire her. 

Then she says what Christy and I have said at book signings, and will undoubtedly continue to say, "I don't want there to be more stress and strain than necessary in sorting out all the details."  She is talking about everyday details we usually take for granted like where her kids go to the doctor and which snacks they like the best after school.  She's talking about her funeral wishes and she's remembering the stories she wants her friends and family to retell after she's gone.  Where the cash is hidden in the house.  Where the insurance information can be found.  What the dog eats.  She closes with, "Thank you!  I'm really looking forward to the book!"

This makes me happy and sad.  Happy that she is trying to make it easier on herself and her family.  Sad that she has to do it now.  Our culture is not good on death and dying.  We celebrate births, birthdays, weddings, promotions, retirements, accomplishments and good deeds.  We do not celebrate death and dying.  We grieve, we mourn, we avoid.  She is not avoiding.  She is tackling this head on.  It is a tribute to her, her grace and her willingness to get it all out there.  She is a role model for the rest of us.  Whether we live until we're in diapers again or just until tomorrow, the absolute greatest gift is the organization of your life for the ones you leave behind.  We all will leave a legacy.  Hopefully a happy, less hectic, more organized tribute to ourselves, and for our loved ones.

We have a hero among us.  She apparently lives in Lee's Summit, Missouri. 

Here's the article by Anne Potter Russ (page 28).

My first blog!
 ANNIE PRESLEY

ANNIE PRESLEY

It's not everyday a girl decides to start blogging.  Just on the day that she thinks the self-help guides she and her friend have written are actually helpful.  We have received so much positive feedback about our first book, Read This...® When I'm Dead, that a blog is perfect to share details.  Turns out a lot of people keep thinking they will

1.  write down their favorite family stories,

2.  prepare a handy list of their passwords,

3.  indicate where the cash is hidden in the house,

4.  tell someone what, and when, their pets eat,

5.  figure out where the insurance policies are located,

6.  tell the fabulous-jewelry-everyone-wants-to-inherit story,

7.  write down the name of their lawyer, and

8.  perhaps even mention their funeral wishes.

Yep, we all talk about it and few of us do much toward accomplishing this extremely helpful exercise for our heirs.  So our guide is designed for you to fill out one page at a time.  You can review a couple of sample chapters on the Read This...® Series tab.  It's pretty easy.  One friend is filling out a page each day.  Brilliant.

Our book leads your heirs, family and friends in the direction you wish.  It's fun, slightly irreverent and easy.  It's full of resources, famous quotes and ideas you may find very useful.  Enjoy!