Archive for September, 2007

Telling Your Life Story

September 10, 2007


Kate, David and Bo (Super Agility Dog) Marshall


by Kate Marshall

After years of urging from his family, ninety year old Carl Marshall finally set to work on telling his life story. He spoke into a tape recorder and enlisted his daughter Karldene to transcribe and edit the manuscript. It wasn’t easy, but they were determined. A full year later, Carl proudly distributed his two volume, illustrated memoirs to his children and grandchildren. He passed away two years later.

Just do it. Not everyone has the time, energy and clerical support that Carl had. Many want to record their life stories, but are overwhelmed by the idea. The good news is that there are lots of ways to share your life stories with the next generation. Set perfectionism aside, find the method and tools that suit you and get going. Your family will not judge your writing skills or penmanship; they just want to hear about your life.

Full memoirs. Even if you feel confident about writing a traditional memoir, you may still want to check some “how to” books out of the library to help you structure and focus your memoir. Such books will also offer technical tips on making your writing sing, but a word of caution: don’t let worries about the writing itself stop you. Bang out the first draft so at least that is done, then fiddle with metaphors and grammar if you want to afterwards.

Autobiography tools. If starting with a blank page feels daunting, consider using one of the fill-in autobiography books out there, either to create an attractive finished product or just to trigger and jot down memories before incorporating them into another document later. Just after Carl Marshall labored over his own memoirs, he and his grandson created a best-selling do-it-yourself autobiography journal to make it easier for people: The Book of Myself (Carl and David Marshall, in bookstores for $15.95). It is a keepsake journal divided by early, middle and later years, and by themes such as family, friends, education, work and the world. On the top of each page is a topic that you write about below. For example, one ‘Early Years’ page prompts “What I enjoyed doing most after school was:” Grandmother Remembers ($18.95) and Grandfather Remembers ($19.95), both by Judith Levy, are also popular.

With these aids, you can easily do a little each day, in any order you like. Another advantage to using these books is that your kin will have your stories in your own handwriting, giving it a more personal touch.

If you don’t like to write at all, use The Book of Myself or another tool to prompt you with topics and then talk into an audio tape. Or ask a relative to use the prompts to interview you “live” and video record it.

Get creative. If the linear structure of an autobiography doesn’t feel right, find other ways to give future generations a flavor of who you are. A few ideas:

Family Cook Book. If cooking has been important in your life, collect your favorite recipes into a bound notebook and write about a time you remember making each of the recipes. Where were you? Who else was there? What was discussed or celebrated at the meal? Include recipes handed down to you by other family members. Share some stories about that person or an occasion you remember when they prepared that meal.

Hobby Scrap Book.  Have you had a special hobby or passion for a long time? Collect the yarn or fabric scraps from your knitting or quilting projects. Write about the grandchild you were knitting for, the inspiration for the quilt you made or who taught you to crochet. What friendships developed because of your hobby? Connect your hobby to the people and events in your life and the lessons you learned. Did the first car engine you loved to tinker with power you and your future wife to the prom? Add as many photos, tickets, receipts or other goodies as you can. Visit or Stamp Diego (800-845-2312) for presentation ideas.

Children’s Story. Pick an event in your life that might make a good children’s story: the time your dog ran away, a special Christmas, struggling as the new kid in school one year, your wartime experience or a funny situation when your kids were young. Have fun adding dialog. You won’t remember every detail, so feel free to embellish a little. Keep it short and age appropriate to the reader.  Add photos or illustrate it. Or ask your grandchild to illustrate it for you.

Recording your life stories can be surprisingly easy if you pick the method that suits you, use the tools that are available and don’t insist on perfection. Your family will be very happy to have it, no matter what.


Kate Marshall is the co-author of Words to Live By: A Journal of Wisdom for Someone You Love (Emily and Kate Marshall, 2005) and The Book of Us: A Journal of Your Love Story in 150 Questions (David and Kate Marshall, 1998), The Life of My Dog (Marshall Books, 2007).  Her husband David is the co-author of The Book of Myself: A Do-It-Yourself Autobiogrpahy in 201


Dog Sports – The True Cultural Divide

September 6, 2007

Wonder Agility Dog - Bo Marshall

My wife Kate wrote this one:

It’s hard to just dabble in dog sports. Once you step up to the start line and lock eyes with your canine partner—your fun-loving and hardworking teammate—you’ll be hooked. I started Agility just to keep myself and my dog fit. Now I say “Hello, my name is Kate. I am an Agility addict.”

Under cover of early morning fog, I join a small weekend army of mini-vans with bumper stickers like “My Poodle’s Smarter Than Your Honor Student,” quietly slipping out of cul-de-sacs everywhere to partake in various dog sport trials. We addicts often drive for hours for a chance to compete in Obedience, Agility, Fly Ball, Tracking, or whatever our dog sport of choice may be. We share passion and respect for dogs, but each sport has its own rules, vocabulary and culture.

Trials for herding, hunting, water sports and disc sports not only have different tasks for the dog, but also different atmospheres for the human. The happiest dog-handler teams have found the sport that both calls on the dogs’ natural talents and has the right vibe for the handlers.

On a typical Saturday morning, a canine obstacle course is erected in a park in Dixon, California for an all-day Agility trial. A judge from Arizona carefully watches a manic, barking Australian Shepherd whirling through the course.

“Jess, here… over… weave!”  Erica, the dog’s spandex-clad handler, chirps out directions and quick praise as the Aussie leaps and shimmies through the correct sequence of jumps, tunnels and weave poles.

After the last jump, sideline supporters give a rowdy hurray. They know this successful run has earned Jess her Open title. The dog leaps into the elated owner’s arms, ready for victory play—and liver bits.

On the same morning, fifty miles away in a park in Walnut Creek, an Obedience trial gets going. A woman in a polka-dotted sweatshirt releases her young Dalmation from a “sit stay” across the ring by firmly calling “Max, come!”

The handler nervously holds her breath until the dog comes. He correctly sits squarely in front of her, awaiting the “finish” command. So far so good, but she doesn’t want to jinx a qualifying score by relaxing until the last test is done. If they succeed, the dog can add a CD (Companion Dog) title to the end of his name and start trying more difficult tests.

Jigs, a golden-eyed border collie, enters the ring with Sharon, his strawberry blond handler, for the “Long Sit” portion of the Obedience test. Jig’s white paws and Sharon’s trail running shoes swish in lock step through the damp grass, which is extra long and sweet from recent rains. His keen eyes and erect ears freeze on Sharon as she unclips his leash.

“Jigs, sit,” she calmly commands. Jigs pops his bottom down and waits for the next command. Perfect.

“Jigs, stay.” As Sharon steps away she holds his gaze, but sees his nostrils flare.

Her eyes flash “Don’t even think about it,” but it’s too late. The intoxicating sweet grass has overwhelmed Jigs. Down he goes, face first into the grass, rubbing its sweetness onto his snout, then neck. Now fully inebriated he flounces down, belly up and starts high-

speed wriggling to work as many good grass smells as possible into his black and white coat before getting busted. The judge excuses Sharon and Jigs from the silent ring.

If this happened to you, would you a) immediately groom the grass stains out of his white blaze; b) plan hours of quiet, dignified retraining; c) howl in amusement at your break dancing canine; or d) be amazed your dog even sat when you suggested it?

Your response likely depends on whether you participate in a dog sport and if so, which one. [Answers: a) Conformation, b) Obedience, c) Agility, d) None of the Above]

Sharon has been involved in all of the above dog worlds, but at heart Sharon and Jigs are an Agility team that does Obedience on the side. Taking initiative and having fun makes Jigs a smarter, faster Agility dog. So yes, she laughs heartily about his untimely roll. Plus it was darn cute.

“Oh man, was he in heaven,” Sharon chuckles as she tells the story to another mostly-Agility person.

“Geez, Sharon. Don’t you know you’re not allowed to laugh in Obedience?!”

But the difference between Obedience and Agility cultures pales in comparison to the divide between Conformation and Herding worlds, especially with border collie lovers. Here the split goes beyond style, with passionate debate over whether breeding towards a physical standard rather than herding talent is good for the breed or bad. Confessing a preference for a certain ear carriage or coat at a working border collie herding trial is a serious faux pas.

I decide to test the mood at the AKC National Championships, where my daughter and herding-reject turned agility-star border collie are entered in Agility. There is no Herding event there, but many Agility people I know who have border collies dream of living on a farm with sheep some day, so I use them as a proxy.

A 50-foot high metal curtain strategically divides the Long Beach Convention Center into Agility and Conformation worlds. I venture over to the Conformation side in time for the border collie gathering. I don’t need a passport to cross the border, but I immediately feel underdressed in my cargo pants and “In Dog We Trust” t-shirt. I am glad I left my un-bathed dog on the other side.

“Gosh, I’m surprised by how different the show collies look from the ones over in Agility,” I say, testing the waters with a spectator whose allegiance I have not yet determined.

“Oh, you mean the Coyotes?” I can’t tell if she is joking so I hastily retreat.

“Did you know that show people call these border collies coyotes?” I ask on the other side of the iron curtain.

“Oh, you mean the Barbie Collie people?” This time I stay long enough to see the smile.

About the Author: Kate Marshall is a writer living in Moraga, California. She is married with two children. Her border collie is by far the better half of their Agility team. Kate is the co-author of four fill-in journals: The Book of Us: A Journal of Your Love Story in 150 Questions (Hyperion, 1998), Words to Live By: A Journal of Wisdom for Someone You Love (Broadway Books, 2005), and What I Love About You (Broadway, 2007), and the 2007 E-book: The Life of My Dog. Over 150,000 copies of her journals have been sold.