Sunday, December 21, 2014

Memories and other ramblings

Well Happy Holidays.  For me and for many, holidays are a mixed bag.  I certainly enjoy the time off.  I even enjoy seeing family... in moderation that is.  I could do without the winter weather and some of the craziness that disrupts a normal trip to the store.

This season I was skimming electronics in the local Craig's listings and out jumped a combination DVD recorder and VHS player – plus the seller was nearby!
 Seemed like it was fate telling me exactly what do to for Christmas.  Yes, folks of my vintage have many of those “cherished” family memories sitting on VHS (commonly called “VCR”) tapes.  I guess it could be worse; we could have been the generation having those reel to reel Super 8 tapes.  Any-who, I snapped up that DVD / VHS recorder and thought I would tackle my divinely inspired project.  Making digital copies provide substantial advantages to VHS.  For starters, they preserve (OK, maybe this is also a down side) these irreplaceable memories (whereas the tape quality of VHS will degrade).  Secondly, digital copies provide much easier editing (a blessing in the case of this tape).  Thirdly, VHS players are near extent and finally, digital versions are much more portable and space efficient.

Step one was to start viewing through those old tapes.  One of the oldest tapes I had of the kids was on a full sized VHS tape so I thought that would be the natural place to start.  This tape had been a gift which had been filmed by my then brother-in-law who had the habit of setting up his VHS camera on a tripod and leaving it for the duration.  Needless, to say this is less than the optimal way to film those family gatherings.  I suppose its great if you don't mind lots of butt shots and other assorted body shots obstructing the subject.

The subject of this tape was my daughter's first birthday.  One would think that this would bring back many happy memories.  Well sort of; after my viewing, I wish I'd prepared with my favorite alcoholic beverage.  It certainly brought back many memories of friends and neighbors – some of whom have died and others who (as far as I know are alive) but haven't been seen in years.  For the most part, it was very pleasant remembering these folks who had passed our way and a tinge of guilt that although I haven't seen some of the living in years I have no regrets.  Rather, I just see this a part of life's changes and neither good nor bad and doesn't make either of us less than a friend.  Likely if events permitted (the biggest being geography), we'd happily still enjoy each other's company.

There were other traumatic jolts to the memory vault as well.  One of the minor observations was the recollection that the June date of this birthday was among the hottest of the year and it being our first baby and first baby's birthday, we had not held back on inviting a large number of friends and family.  Closely behind this memory is the memory that our home did not have air conditioning (nor did we own a window unit) on the big day.  Sure enough, the point was well made with a shot of a topless 3 year old niece and well basted guests.

Among my memories are the many walks I took with my kids where I would bundle them up and put them in the stroller to walk to Cook park.  Your mind holds these good memories although this memory did not show on VHS.  One of the most pronounced memories that was reflected on the VHS was the absolute look of exhaustion.  I am certain that the weather made this more pronounced and much as I'd like it to be otherwise, I thought I looked terrible.  Yes, I believe I could easily qualify for a walk-on appearance as Zombie and no make up would have been required.  Unfortunately, this observation is consistent with my child-rearing experience; simply put, I found it exhausting.  At that time, I was working full time and also trying to quickly complete graduate school – then shortly after this birthday, baby #2 arrived.  Yes, I looked like hell (in contrast these days I just feel like hell, but think I look a bit better).

This tape came to a merciful end.  Around the time of this filming, I decided that I did not want to rely on others and wanted to record my on family memories so went to one of those now out of business electronic stores that offered zero percent financing and bought one of those mini-VHS camcorders.  I was looking forward to viewing the memories that I had filmed.  Unfortunately, I quickly learned that my spontaneously purchased, but dated DVD/VHS recorder did not seem to handle the mini-VHS tapes (played in an adapter) placing a pause on my memory viewing.  While my plans are on forced pause, I remain committed to the project and share these lessons learned for both young families who are currently recording their own memories as well as old farts such as I who have VHS libraries:
  1. Quality Beats Quantity, every time.  Don't do as my brother-in-law; don't record events from a tripod.  If the event isn't worth the attention of holding and pointing the camera, it may not be worth recording.  Those extended shots of unwrapping birthday (or Christmas or whatever other event) gifts are downright boring.  Your baby won't be any more or less cute in 10 minutes of gift unwrapping torture than one or two great (and short) camera shots.

  2. If you look like (or feel like) hell, limit your camera exposure.  (I put this one in for me).

  3. Think before you act.  As hard as it may be around the holidays, place a braking mechanism on your heart and follow your head.  For me, this would have meant doing some quick research, such as what did the reviews say about the DVD/VHS that I was buying?  (They were mediocre at best).  Furthermore, I would have benefited greatly by doing some general research (IE. Google “how to convert VHS to DVD or digital...”).  Doing this would have saved me some wasted money and time and since doing this, my current inclination is to purchase Video Capture Device such as Elgato on Amazon.  The advantage that I see to using this type of strategy is that then you can not only save it to a DVD, but you can also save it out to one of the Cloud or social media so that you can easily share with friends and family.

  4. Consider whether you should hire a professional.  I called a local business that provides this service and was advised that their rate is $30 for each DVD and $5 for every time they change a tape.  (I haven't fully ruled out this option either).  Some reasons you may want to choose this option include:
    1. You are not tech savvy.
    2. There are time constraints involved – doing it yourself can be very time consuming (although keep in mind that even if you hire someone, you will likely need sufficiently organize your collection so that whoever you hire will know what sequential order you would like them recorded.)
    3. If you have a history of procrastination.