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Posts tagged ‘Build Memories’


I do realize that it is officially autumn for about a week now, and the holidays are storming down on us.  But for the last several weeks, I have been engaged in a mega-spring-cleaning session.  Go figure.

What prompted my activity was that my sister has moved.  Thus, the glass-doored bookcase that she was storing for me since Mom died finally needed to get transported up to me.  Now, to make room for the bookcase I had to move out an existing bookcase.  Oh, I have enough books stacked on floors and shelves to warrant just accommodating a new bookcase or two—or three or four.  But I have no more wall space to accommodate any additional bookcases.

Thus I started sorting, and sorting, and sorting.  I finally adjusted to my decision to give away books from my first stint in graduate school—that’s over 30 years ago.  Then I started looking at all the other books.  Even though they were my books, did I need to store them if I were not reading them or even remembering they were there after so long?  When I emptied one book case with deep shelves I was surprised to find a second row of books skulking behind the visible first row.  Enough. I do not need to keep all my books.  So now my Riverside edition of the complete works of Shakespeare is in a box waiting to go to a new owner! As are old composition texts and many, many novels and copies of classics.  I just hope that in this world of Kindles and Nooks that some folks out there will welcome taking home some actual books.

Since I was boxing up the books and getting over the guilt about moving those friends on to other potential owners, I decided I would expand my review and sort through everything: jewelry, clothes, kitchen supplies, bedding, knick-knacks, more books of course, and even do-dads and what-nots.  Thank goodness the Salvation Army will come pick up whatever I finally pull together.  There are also a couple local shelters where I will share some of my things.

Mary Engelbreit Attitude PrintI am comforted through this process because I know my memories will stay just as clear and fresh as they are now (for a little while anyway), even if the items are not tucked away in a closet somewhere.  I hope someone else will enjoy the many framed pictures and posters of windows that adorned every inch of the drab wall space of a former cubicle of an office that had no windows at all.  I trust someone new will actually use the various serving trays and platters and three-tiered stands that graced my table years ago when I had crowds over for parties. There’s a huge dolly that used to cart my folding tables, chairs and displays around when I worked street fairs selling my photo-art cards and prints.  It can help someone else lug things around now.  But all those memories are still in place.

Of course, I am still keeping many items even if I do not use them regularly.  About 20 years ago, an aunt gave me a plate she had received from her husband’s mother.  I still have Grandma Mau’s plate, safely packed away.  It holds good memories.  So does some jewelry, like Mom’s charm bracelet even though some charms are missing, the shalom pendant I received from Pastor Clark on my confirmation, and a nice peace symbol necklace that I might even start wearing again. I will even hang onto a small batch of card stock and supplies in case I want to make some photo-art cards again.  Of course, I cannot really get rid of very many of my elephant figurines.  I will give away the VHS tapes of the old TV show The Avengers, but I will keep the wooden spin top, the Lost in Space robot figurine, and the energy chime that used to adorn my desk to help keep students (and faculty) amused.

Of course, the best thing I am hanging onto are the memories that are tied to everything, whether I am keeping the treasured item or not.  There are the big memories of graduations and weddings and anniversaries and holidays and such.  But the best memories are the everyday ones of just a typical day.  Laughing with Mom over a charm she bought me for my charm bracelet or the good times taking pictures with Dad tied to my first 35 mm camera.  Playing baby dolls with my sister when we were little, and Mom’s love and patience that were stitched into the handmade overcoat for that Tiny Tears doll.  We lived in Chicago back then, so my baby doll really needed a warm coat!

Lots of travel memories have surfaced tied not only to photos from the various trips but also to the shells and rocks and other little pieces I picked up as I waded in the Colorado River, walked over the lava fields in Utah, or collected fossils on a biology field trip in Texas.  Even though I no longer have my own rose bushes, I still remember how Mom would cut roses to display in a vase on the coffee table.  I have not put up a full Christmas tree for years, but I still remember helping Dad pick out a tree and get the lights on it just so before we all started helping with placing the ornaments.  The old dented blackened pot Mom always used to make popcorn for Dad has been gone for years, but it comes to mind every time I make popcorn, even in a microwave.  There are some items I will keep no matter what.  But I do not really need the mementoes. I have the memories regardless of what I keep and what I give away.

One item I uncovered captures the sense of nostalgia and memory that is surfacing for me since I have been tackling this project.  It helps me remember that little everyday things are the best.  It reminds me to cherish the ordinary, to look for connections to others, to pause and enjoy nature, and to give time to people no matter what.  What I uncovered was a wall plague I vaguely remember really, really wanting when I was a teen.  It hung on my wall for years, so Mom and Dad must have gotten it for me.  It has been in a box for years—and will probably go back there, to be disposed of later. I like its message. What I unpacked is the poem “Normal Day” by Mary Jean Irion on a wooden plague.  It is a message I hope to keep close to my heart as I continue making memories—and collecting stuff to sort and give away later.

In conclusion, I simply wish each of you the treasure of a normal day!

normal day


Santa Carrying Shopping BagsIt still does not make sense to me to rush through Thanksgiving in order to charge to the store that evening or the next day simply to buy, buy, buy for Christmas.  But that practice seems to be the norm for people these days.  If I believe the hype from the news and commercials, the main motto of this time of year has become “More, More, More” and “Rush, Rush, Rush.”  That is not quite the feeling of the season I remember from growing up.  No matter what holiday you are celebrating—Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Pancha Ganapati, Ashura, others—the intent is to celebrate life, peace, goodwill, all that stuff.  Somehow getting a good deal on some electronic toy or fancy purse seems a bit silly, doesn’t  it?  It does to me, anyway.

Still, during this time of celebration and renewal, it seems very appropriate to give gifts, to share with others out of love and generosity.  Of course, the best gifts do not have to come from the fashionable stores or cost a lot of money.  The best gifts come from the heart and build relationships, memories, traditions.  I do not have a definitive list of the best gifts to give for the holidays.  But I can make some suggestions:

mom by treeBooks are always a great gift!  Of course, you need to know the likes and interests of the people you are giving the book(s) too.  If someone does not enjoy cooking, do not give a cookbook, even a specialized one connected with some Food Network TV Show.  A conservative would probably not appreciate a book by a liberal pundit, even if it is topical—and vice versa.  But if you can match interest, book and person, great!  My mom loved animals, so last year I gave her Betty White’s Betty & Friends:  My Life at the Zoo.  She was ecstatic!  For kids, giving a book that might spark an interest in reading along with the content material of the book is a gift for life.  Reading the book together—whether to kids or with the elderly—will really enhance the gift.  One of my favorite books to give a toddler is Animalia—a delightful picture book that requires sitting together with a loving adult and sharing the experience of the book, sparking the child’s observational and creative skills.

IMG_0007Time.  In this crazy, hectic world of long hours, multi-tasking, and technology that consumes our attention, honest-to-goodness one-on-one time with someone is a real treat.  For example, my mom loved our Saturday nights together to watch a movie—but she often did not really follow the movie.  She just liked the company, the normalcy of the activity that was reminiscent of watching TV together over the years. The other day, my dad said I do not have to come visit him, because he knows it is a long ride to get to him (4 hours round trip), but the time with him is well worth the effort.  Right now at 92 he is still alert and engaging.  He recognizes me from down the hall, smiling and waving and making a point to introduce me to the various care givers who wander by.  He does not need anything, but time together is a gift for both of us.  But it is not just family who appreciate time:  volunteer at shelters, invite those who would otherwise be alone for the holidays over for dinner or a movie, offer to babysit for someone who needs to get out without the kids, take those without transportation to church, store or park—you get the idea.

Christmas Village, early

christmas tree lightdExtend the Tradition.  Find something that is repeatable year after year, as a way to extend the memories and tradition for whatever holiday you are celebrating.  Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, especially decorating the tree.  So a gift I always liked to give was an ornament to each niece and nephew and others throughout the years.  My parents always displayed a Christmas Village Scene each year, and it also became tradition to add to the village every year—new buildings, extra skaters or snow men, but also more unique items like an outdoor manager for next to the church or a little old lady sitting on a bench feeding the birds. I also like little plates and bowls for serving goodies, so every year Mom and others would get a Christmas plate of some kind.  Last Christmas, Mom wanted to have some of those plates in her room at the retirement center, so she could give them to visitors as a way to extend her Christmas cheer and generosity even if she could not get out to shop.  At her Memorial Service last month, it was a real treat to hear several members of her church family comment on those plates she gave them that now they treasure as well.  So my suggestion would be to find something—candles, plates, ornaments, angels, snowmen, cookie cutters, something—and make it an ongoing part of the annual celebration  You will reap memories to share for years to come.

cookiesGoodies.  The holiday season is often a time of over indulgence and extravagance, especially in the areas of food and drink.  But I am still going to suggest that you cannot really go wrong with candy and cookies and wine and such.  Chocolate, of course, always works!  Handmade is always nice, but not necessary.  Some variations to consider:  a gift card to a place that specializes in favorite goodies—Italian Swiss Colony, See’s Candy, Harry & Davids—so that extra goodies can be ordered later when the wealth of goodies has waned.  Or give favorite recipes and ingredients along with a promise to come back at a later time to help make the special recipe together.  Maybe create a little booklet filled with favorite family recipes, not just holiday goodies, and add the special pan or unique cookie cutter as needed. Or promise to come over sometime when everyone is tired and worn out from all the celebrating to make a meal or to take the kids out or to order pizza when the tree is being taken down.  Of course, if those to whom you give truly have much more than enough, you could share literal goodies with shut-ins or church groups or shelters and tell family and friends it was given in their name.

Gift Cards.  Giving gift cards has become more and more of the norm lately, as people find it harder and harder to personalize purchases for those on their list. At the same time, complaints surface that someone has received a card for a place they would never eat or shop.  If you give gift cards, give them sparingly and match them to the recipient as carefully as you would any other gift.  One of my nephews, for example, is in Germany for a research grant and will be gone until February.  He’ll be getting a gift card to Amazon.com—shhh!  No one tell him!  But he loves books that he can read on his kindle—and I do not have to worry about shipping to Europe.  My mom is gone this year, so I am not buying her the usual traditional items from Santa; instead, I will make a donation to The Humane Society in her honor, given her everlasting love of animals.  In fact, instead of a generic gift card, a donation to a worthy cause such as cancer research or nature preservation might be appropriate for anyone on your list.  Or consider giving memberships to zoos, museums, or botanical gardens in the area, allowing the recipients to visit these places as often as they want throughout the year—now that is a gift that keeps giving!

CA Little Something Extra.  My mom always made a point to have a generic gift or two under the tree.  It might have been a book, a candle, a puzzle, even a can of nuts or candy—something.  As a kid, I never saw the sense of this practice.  But then year after year, someone would arrive unexpectedly—and there would be a gift for them!  No one was ever left out.  No one sat without  a gift when the group around them were exchanging many packages.  Looking back, I see my mom’s gesture as a true representation of the spirit of giving.  And I make a point of having a gift ready to share, no matter who shows up at the door.

One Last Point:  It is never wise to give a gift if you are expecting something in return.  Give for the joy of giving!  However, if you receive a gift, especially if it arrives in the mail rather than face-to-face, say thank you.  Let the giver know the package arrived and that the thought is appreciated even if you want to return or re-gift the actual present.  Gift-giving is the holiday activity that connects people, shows appreciation and generosity—what the present is, is really not that important.  That you were thought of, that someone reached out to you—those are the gifts.  So say, “thank you” or at the very least, “got it.”  If you don’t, do not be surprised if the gifts stop coming.   Generosity is a two-way street, graciously giving and receiving.

Finally, if you are still rushing around trying to get ready for the holidays and frantically buying last-minute gifts, slow down!   Don’t forget to enjoy the holidays.  It would not really be a catastrophe if no gifts were given.

So, have you finished your shopping yet? What is your advice about buying the best gifts for the people on your list?  How do you focus on the giving, the connections, the people rather than the present itself at this time of year?

Merry Christmas!

mom and dad by tree

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