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Posts tagged ‘“Memories”’


Christmas was always a time to celebrate with Mom and Dad.  I would travel with Dad as a kid, scouting various lots to find the best tree.  Then I would watch him meticulously place the lights, just so, on the branches.  He used a combination of the older larger lights and bubble lights as well as some of the smaller sparkly ones.  Oh, I loved the bubble lights!  There was a set of angel ornaments, five of different shapes and colors—one for each of us girls.  Those were always placed near the top of the tree.  Eventually, a white angel graced the very tip-top.

Decorating the tree was fun. Over the years I provided more and more ornaments for their collection—as did my sisters.  They had lots of ornaments that featured birds and animals, angels and cameras.  It became a challenge to find a space to place one more ornament.  But we always managed!  I was not upset when we stopped draping tinsel—piece by piece—over the branches.  That was a tedious task I did not enjoy.

Our 1965 Tree with Tinsel

One of the first Christmas gifts I bought for Mom and Dad once I was working was a Sleeping Santa.  Dad always duplicated that picture, whenever he sat down, it seemed.  Of course, he said it was the chair!

The village scene was always fun to unwrap and arrange too.  It kept growing every year as new buildings and figurines were added. Some years, strange creatures would invade the village! As an adult, one of my traditions was to secretly place some new figure or building into the village scene—and then wait for Mom and Dad to notice.  One year, I eventually added a church into the village—and an outdoor nativity scene as well.  One of the last items I added was a woman on a bench, feeding birds.

The Village Scene below is a set of plates by Norman Rockwell.  Mom and Dad had it for years, but they had nowhere to display it.  Now, it comes out at my house every year.  It’s my version of their bigger/better Christmas Village.  The little music box was in Mom and Dad’s room at the Center, also as a reminder for their original Christmas Village.  It plays several Christmas tunes!

Mom and Dad had several Christmas albums that we’d listen too, while we worked.  Two of my favorites were Andy Williams Christmas and Ed Ames Christmas.  As I got older, we started attending the late-night Christmas Eve Church Service, the one with candle lighting and lots of hymns.  Oh, Mom loved the Christmas carols—and so do I.

Even once I was an adult and lived in another state, I nearly always made it home to celebrate with them—and to play Santa for them.  When I moved back to California and lived a short drive away, so an afternoon visit was a possibility, I would still spend the holiday with them. Oh, I had my own decorations at home, but it was tradition to help them make the house look like Christmas.  It was fun to help with decorating and mailing cards and wrapping gifts and preparing meals.  Then, we’d go to the late-night church service.  And later, once we were home, I would play Santa, leaving them a note to not peek until I was up too. Just like they used to do.

No surprise.  My tree looked a lot like theirs!  Well, I had more elephant ornaments than they did.  I stopped putting up my own big tree a couple years after the Northridge Earthquake (1994)—that year my tree fell over during the quake.  The tree itself broke as did lots of my ornaments. (Yes, it was mid-January when the quake hit and my tree was still up. So? Finding time to put things away has always been a challenge! Don’t get me started.)

In 2011, after Mom and Dad have moved into a retirement center, I helped them host a Family Christmas Open House.  At the Open House, we all unpacked the boxes together, taking home the bits and pieces that especially touched our memories.   Mom and Dad kept some of their decorations to be used in their room at the Center.   One of my nephews has their old nativity set, and one of my nieces has most of their old village scene.  I treasure their Santa-feeding-the-animals figurine set and a few other knick-knacks and ornaments.

These Days, There Are A Few More Animals

This noisy, fairly tacky Christmas star ornament is really fun–and it measures about four inches in diameter.  It rested in their tree and sang a LOUD song, whenever it was jostled in any way.  Dad loved this thing–and set it off regularly.  Now, I make sure it plays its song a couple times each holiday.

Two of My “Little” Trees, Resting on Mom and Dad’s Coffee Table in Front of Their Couch

Most of my Christmas stuff is still packed away at this point, but between some of my stuff and some of Mom and Dad’s stuff, I have enough decorations to make it feel like Christmas.  I have several small table-top Christmas trees that hold some of my ornaments.  Other ornaments as well as various knick-knacks fit into many of the nooks and crannies about the apartment.

This Christmas Elephant Is Next to An Old Rocking Horse

I Received These Little Bears Every Year Until They Stopped Being Made. Talk about Feeling Old?!

In This Santa’s Workshop, There Is My Purdue Train and Mom’s Felt Drum and Little Doll House

I truly treasure this sweet little angel–a gift from Mom and Dad.

This time of year can be bittersweet, missing loved ones.  But the decorations and memories represent so much love, so many good times that they make it feel like Mom and Dad are still helping me get the decorations set, just right.  It’s a great time of year! And, of course, traditions continue and new memories are always being made.  A few years ago, I was gifted this lovely Nativity with Candles. This wooden one was made in Germany and replaces the metal one from the past that had become tarnished and broken–it also does not make the tinny noise of the old one!

I no longer put up lights, but I still enjoy a bubble light night here and there.

Just the other day my sister shared some readings from one of Mom’s old Christmas Ideals—she made me cry!  And this is my new Christmas elephant, sitting with “my” angel from the set of five that were always on Mom and Dad’s tree.

And look at this great new Star Trek Ornament: Captain Kirk and Christmas Tribbles!

I love Christmas!

These Carpool Karaoke Christmas Songs are also new—and fun.  Enjoy!




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


Today would have been Mom and Dad’s 72nd Wedding Anniversary. 

Mom died in November 2012.  This is the first anniversary since her death.  Dad is doing okay:  alert, fairly active, and joking with the staff at the Center where he lives.  I tend to see him on Saturdays.  Memories of Mom always come up, but as time passes, the tears are not always there anymore.  Good memories.

One of Dad’s favorite memories of Mom is the day he first saw her.  It was in the Steinmetz High School cafeteria.  Dad was some sort of hall monitor, but his focus was not on his job. He saw her across the room during lunch and just knew she would be his.  That was in 1939.

Ray & Dorothy Before Getting Married

Ray & Dorothy Before Getting Married

They were married on June 7, 1941, in Chicago, Illinois.  Mom carried yellow tea roses.  They went to Wisconsin Dells for a short honeymoon.

Heading to the Church

Heading to the Church

Mr. & Mrs. Ray Ross

Mr. & Mrs. Ray Ross


Presumed Postcard Honeymoon Souvenir

Presumed Postcard Honeymoon Souvenir

Dad is very proud that since the wedding, he has not taken off his wedding band, ever, not even once.  Not slogging through the muck at Iwo Jima, not in messy everyday clean-ups like while painting or working in the garden, and not in the hospital during surgeries.  He refuses to take it off to this day—it is his last tangible connection to Mom.

One of Their Last Visits 2012

One of Their Last Visits 2012

When I see him tomorrow over dinner, I am sure we will share some good memories, and probably cry a bit.  Mom and Dad—Raymond Francis and Dorothy Birkemoe—were a great couple.

Dad will enjoy these photos of Mom and Dad over the years:

1966:  25 Years Together

1966: 25 Years Together

1975:  34 Years Together

1975: 34 Years Together

1984:  43 Years Together

1984: 43 Years Together

1989:  48 Years Together

1989: 48 Years Together

1991:  Cutting 50th Anniversary Cake

1991: Cutting 50th Anniversary Cake

1992:  51 Years Together

1992: 51 Years Together

2011:  70 Years Together

2011: 70 Years Together

I know their love lives on.  Happy Anniversary!

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Average 3 bedroom house cost $4000

Average house rental was $32 a month

Average annual income was $2,437

A new Ford cost $680

Gas was $0.19 a gallon

Bread was $0.08 a pound/loaf

Milk was $0.54 a gallon

Bacon was $0.34 a pound

First Class Stamp was $0.03

Some popular songs were “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered,” “Deep in the heart of Texas,” “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”

Some movies that came out that year:  Citizen Kane, Dumbo, How Green Was My Valley, Sergeant York, and The Maltese Falcon.

Japan Bombed Pearl Harbor

Superman was rated 4-7 because of his X-ray Vision

Greta Garbo Retired

Red Skelton started on the radio, with his closing “God Bless”

4th Thursday in November officially named as Thanksgiving


Merry Christmas!

Dad in Christmas HatIt has been an odd holiday season, as I am still dealing with grief over my mom’s recent death.  But Christmas joy and celebration still come through as I carry-out the traditions of the season.  I visit with Dad, who is doing great—and he really liked the goodies and presents I brought from myself and his sister! We shared memories of Mom, but they were good memories and made us smile.

Santa & the Animals

This year, I baked some of Grandma’s Christmas butter cookies, displayed the few Christmas decorations she would have displayed in her room, am watching some classic Christmas movies, shared a nice dinner and lots of laughs with family, and even sent out some  Christmas cards.

It is a glorious time of year.  No matter what, the joy, love and hope of Christmas shine through.  But you may need to slow down a minute—whether all the gifts are wrapped or not—and just enjoy the love and intent of Christmas.  Light a candle, watch the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle, and hug family and friends as you wish them the joy of the season.  Here are a few of my favorite Christmas songs to help set the mood—consider them my Christmas gift to you.


Susan Boyle singing “Oh Holy Night”

Olivia Newton John singing “Silent Night”

“The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah

What are your favorite Christmas songs and traditions?

Counting Birthdays & Making Wishes

“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”  Emily Dickinson

Remember when you were a kid?  It was important to be very exact when telling your age:  “I’m 7 ½” or “I’m going to be 10 in a few months,” or even “I’m almost 16,” from a 14 year old.  The milestones toward adulthood—turning 16, then 18, then finally 21—are eagerly noted and celebrated with great fanfare.   When did all that stop?

George Carlin muses about this same phenomenon, and then looks at the language we use to mark growing older once we celebrate our more adult years.  As he says, “You BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50, and MAKE it to 60.  You have built up so much speed that you HIT 70!  After that, it’s a day-by-day thing.”  Somewhere in there middle age sets in!

But even though I am now middle-aged, I have decided that I am not going to get old!  I plan to stay young at heart as long as possible.  To play games, eat ice cream, and celebrate the passing of each day.  I am going to make plans and mark off accomplishments.  I am going to decorate with balloons.  I am going to blow out candles so all my wishes come true. I might even hug a gorilla. No matter what your age—8, 18, 42, 83, 91 and holding—taking action to note your birthdays is important!  It alerts the world, you have hopes and plans for tomorrow.  As Walt Disney says, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

I am making this announcement today, because I am officially 56 ½ years old. Today! Happy Almost Birthday to me!

I am also taking the time today to report a few updates on the goals I have set for myself by the time I officially reach 57 years young.  In an earlier posting, I reported on seven goals I am working on in no particular order.  I have not started on everything, but I have made some progress. I am eating healthier, sorting and scanning my old photos, reading a book off my to-read list, and making plans to advertise my educational consulting business once the new fiscal year gets started next month.  In the next six months, I vow to get a lot done—but not before I celebrate today—and maybe even tomorrow. 

Of course, just because I am counting birthdays and refusing to grow old does not mean that I do not have aches and pains, repeat myself way too often, say things that sound just like my mother, and have more senior moments than I can remember.  But those things are part of life, so I guess they are not so bad.  And laughing over them, at myself, with others, makes everything better.  As Michael Pritchard says, “You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.” 

As my gift to myself and to each of you on my 56 ½ birthday, I share this video rendition of the song “Memories.”  It makes me laugh every time I watch it—and I don’t think it is just because I forget what’s coming next. 


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