Posts Tagged ‘memories’

The holidays can bring such joy — families gather together to share specially prepared meals, exchange gifts, and savor the particular magic that seems to permeate the air. Frosty windowpanes frame displays of trees and candles whose lights dance about merrily. The cold makes noses jauntily pink, and hot cocoa and spiced cider warm everyone back up. The scents of cinnamon and pine waft through the air.

Of course, that’s the ideal, what sparkles in our memories of favorite holidays. It’s also possible, with busy lives and the demands of work, kids’ last days of school before the winter break, and just trying to get ready for the expectations of what the holidays should be — grocery shopping, endless treks to the mall to get the toys and gadgets on the kids’ wish lists, getting lights strung around the house — to lose sight of the true meaning of the holidays.

Here are a few ideas for ways to bring back that wonderful feeling that can be the hallmark of this special time of year.

Get ideas from Grandma.

Ask an older member of your family, such as a grandmother or great-uncle, to share a tradition from his or her childhood and incorporate that this year. Grandma may tell you how when she was little she put her shoes outside the front door to have them filled with goodies from Santa Claus, instead of in a stocking next to the fireplace. This might work particularly well if you don’t have a fireplace and the children worry how Santa can get to their stockings without one!

Shake the family tree.

This free land of ours is a melting pot of many countries with their own unique practices surrounding the holidays. Your family may be a mixture of Russian, British and Norwegian, for example. Look up Christmas traditions that are common in Norway, perhaps, and pick one or two to incorporate this year in your celebrations. Christmas Eve dinner there usually features pork or lamb ribs or even cod, according to visitnorway.com, followed by the opening of gifts waiting under the tree. Get a recipe for Norwegian-style ribs and try that as a main course, and do the same for the traditional cookies — goro, krumkaker or berlinekrans.

Plan to volunteer or give back somehow as a family.

Depending on your family’s size and the ages of your children, it may be easy to find some way to give back to your community in some way or it may be a bit more challenging. Little ones won’t have a long attention span or may not be old enough to help out at homeless shelters or places that provide free meals, for instance. But anyone can find some way to serve others. Donating cans or boxes of nonperishable food items is a simple option; children can help Mom pick out vegetables they like and want to share with others. Take a box or bag full to your local food pantry. A more one-on-one way to brighten someone’s day is to visit a nursing home. Share your talents, such as music, or just sit and visit and ask an older person about his or her life. Ask him or her about long-ago traditions or holiday memories, even.

Re-emphasize your faith.

lightOur holidays are based on religious events, after all. Find a way to focus more on “what it really is all about.” Make an advent calendar that takes the whole month of December leading up to Christmas Day to remember miracles Christ performed. I’ve been enjoying the LDS Church’s #lighttheworld initiative this month so far, which gives an idea of something to do service-wise every day of the month leading up to the 25th, based on what Jesus did in his life.

Gift a memory.

It can sometimes be difficult to find just the right gift for a loved one. This year, try “throwing it back” by finding an item that reflects a favorite toy or experience the recipient had as a child. Children of the ‘80s had Atari game systems; try giving him a classic video game set in the form of an app. Maybe your grandma misses the beautiful farmhouse she grew up in; give her a framed photo of it or an ornament that harks back to it. Or try a charm for a bracelet or necklace. Have some fun!

Read Full Post »

I’m presenting a class for a family history workshop on how to preserve various family memories: audio, video, documents, and photos. I thought some of my friends online might appreciate the information I’m sharing, so here are the basics:


You can use a service to transfer film or VHS/Beta tapes to DVDs or do it yourself. Services are certainly easier but they’re costly.

First, the services I’ve found: Mail your materials in to MyMovieTransfer.com, ScanCafe.com, DigMyPics.com, iMemories.com, LegacyBox.com, or YesVideo.com.

Or go to Costco, Walmart, Walgreens, or CVS (these all use YesVideo service) to drop off your videos for transfer.

Next, DIY methods:

For VHS tapes, you can use a VHS-DVD burner combo player, an analog-to-digital adapter for your computer, or a separate VHS player and DVD recorder. These require various levels of know-how and equipment that might be pricey, but it might be cheaper even with pricey equipment if you have a lot to transfer. Plus, you can re-sell the equipment when you’re done to recoup some of the costs.

Digital Trends provides a nice online tutorial for DIY methods.

Once you’re finished getting your video onto DVD, then you can move on to getting it onto your computer hard drive in MP4 or similar format. For the future, it looks as if everything is going digital, so just go ahead and do it now. This also means you can have all your memories in one place. You can store on your computer and also keep a copy on a backup hard drive for safekeeping, along with all of your other digital copies of photos and audio, etc. I’ve used Xilisoft’s DVD Ripper and it’s fairly simple if you have some computer experience; standard version is $39.99. Other software includes Wondershare Video Converter starting at $39.95.

Digital Trends provides instructions for some free options.


Transferring cassette tapes onto your computer hard drive and into MP3 or similar digital audio formats is less complex than transferring video. It’s also pretty inexpensive. You just need a cassette player and an auxiliary cord to plug it into your computer, as well as software. The primary software I’ve seen (and used myself) is Audacity. Bonus: it’s free! Here are a couple of online tutorials:




If you have photos in slide format, you can use a service, which can be quite expensive if you have a lot of them, or you can do it yourself. DIY is pretty easy and just requires a slide scanner, which can be purchased for around $80 to $120.

Loose photos or photos in albums are easy to scan with a regular scanner. Many of us now have combo printer/scanners. If you don’t have one yet, you can purchase a good-quality one for as little as $50. Only drawback is it’s time-consuming. If you’re trying to scan in photos that are still in old albums, you’ll have to scan in each page, make copies of the image on your computer, then crop down to each photo. Afterward, you can use your favorite photo-editing software to clean them up.

There are also apps for this project, such as Pic Scanner, which can be downloaded from the iTunes app store. It’s free for the first 10 scans of album pages and $2.99 after that. Pros: Makes it easy to just “take a picture,” and it isolates the separate photos for you without you having to copy and crop. Con: I liked the quality of my scanner better.

If you do want to use a service, there are lots out there, such as ScanCafe.com, DigMyPics.com, FotoBridge.com, iMemories.com, LegacyBox.com, and YesVideo.com.


Don’t forget to scan in old family documents as well. Same process goes here for photos. Use a scanner.

Now, going the other direction: many of us have photos from the past 5 to 10 years strictly in digital format. That’s great for storage, but you’ll also want to have some actually in hard copy form. I’ve found it’s nice and pretty easy to make photo albums on my computer using various photo-album services and then just have them printed and bound for me. No printing of individual photos and then assembling into albums. I’ve used Shutterfly, MiniBox, and MyPublisher and have been satisfied with their products. There are also a number of other services I haven’t tried: PhotoBook America, Peggy Bank, and AdoramaPix, for a few examples.


If you’re going to do any of these projects with services available, make sure you get the best deal you can! Groupon and LivingSocial are handy for this. Sign up for their emails and you’ll get heads-up on the various deals that might involve these kinds of services. I’ve gotten good ones from MyPublisher and am up to date on all my family photo albums thanks to them.

I also like to use Ebates to get cash back and coupons for services. Create an account and you can search for all their participating merchants.

Some current deals (local to my area in California):


Digital media services from Southtree

Video and image digitization services from Peggy Bank 

Groupon for 40-page photo books from PhotoBookAmerica

Groupon for photo books from AdoramaPix


Read Full Post »

I was thinking again about what a stark contrast there is between the kind of lives my kids and those of their generation lead and the childhood I experienced. I can’t help but lament the huge influence of electronics and other gadgets of today.

Here I am with my sister just watching the cows near our house in eastern Pennsylvania.

Here I am with my sister just watching the cows near our house in eastern Pennsylvania.

I have fond memories of spending lots of time outdoors. Let me make clear that I am not an “outdoorsy” type now and kind of wasn’t even then. I don’t really enjoy camping, I don’t hike, don’t fish, don’t go on trips out to natural wonders; rather, I really enjoy visiting cities with interesting historical sites, museums, and lots of other cultural wonders; I read, I spend time learning things online, editing, writing, etc. I guess it sounds odd I would then be nostalgic about my outdoorsy childhood. But I am. I’m pretty sure my mom forced me out the door when I was a kid, so I would get some fresh air, take a break from reading, and get out of her hair for a while. But I think back on all the beautiful country that lay around the old houses we lived in in various parts of Pennsylvania and just savor those memories. I made mud pies, incorporating wild little onions and carrots and the moist dirt that lay right along the burbling streams. In the winter, my siblings and I built great igloos and forts out of the snow that was so abundant.

Did I watch TV very much? Nah. Do I have fond memories of sitting around the TV set with my family? Not much. I do have some fond memories of going to see classic films with my dad and sister and brother. We watched “Oliver” and “Fantasia.” When teaching his occasional film class, Dad would bring us in to introduce us to Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” and even “Battleship Potemkin.” “Citizen Kane” was on the menu. But day-in, day-out, we didn’t have the option of watching videos in our living room. There were 13 channel options on the TV knob, and not all corresponded to an actual station (half were just static).

I love the scent of lilacs today because we had an amazing lilac bush outside a side door of one house, which had a kind of hollowed-out middle I could crawl into and think while smelling that intoxicating floral scent. While I don’t take the time today to find places to walk in nature, I did enjoy just setting out through woods and trails and seeing what I’d find, thinking about whatever while doing so.

Today, my kids and others have instant entertainment in the forms of hundreds of options of (mostly dreck) on TV; they have DVDs galore; there are computers with the Internet, Facebook, Google, YouTube, what have you; smartphones to access that same fun (and often the same level of dreck) stuff whenever they’re not sitting at a desktop computer, and so on. Even though I try to limit the amount of time they spend in front of any screen, just being entertained, I do lament that they aren’t forced as much to just entertain themselves. (Part of my sadness here is that my husband and I always lived “in town,” as opposed to the old houses out seemingly in the middle of nowhere my parents had us live. I admit I have caved to the convenience of having shopping, school, work, etc. easily and quickly accessible. Plus, my husband is a city boy.)

Yep, so here I am being one of those “old codgers” who talks about the good ol’ days and being sad about what’s happening with the young folk. Most of the time, I just do what I can to make my kids entertain themselves (they do love to read and we have a TON of books around, and we have plenty of paint, crayons, paper, etc. and other raw materials for play/learning) and keep them off the computer or away from the TV. But there are moments I wish they could have enjoyed the “simpler time” I had. Guess I’m just turning into my parents here. It’s bound to happen to all of us eventually.

Read Full Post »

TuileriesI’ve long since decided that it’s far better to spend money on doing things, rather than acquiring things. Sure, if I spend $5000 on an amazing diamond necklace, I’ll be able to keep wearing it for the next 40 years, but if I spend the same amount on a trip, I’ll be able to keep the memories of that trip FOREVER. Even better, while there’s a possibility someone could always take a necklace or any other tangible item, no one can take my memories from me. They’ll always be with me.

I just spent 8 days in England and France with my husband celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. I worked RIDICULOUSLY hard to get the trip planned. We did all kinds of interesting things and went a few places that weren’t the typical tourist haunts, so it wasn’t as simple as just buying a package deal from some travel site. I had to plan every last detail. But we went, we spent a ton of time on trains and planes and ferries and the Underground and Metro and even a few taxis, and we saw all kinds of gorgeous scenery and cool sites. Now we’re back, and life is just the same as it was 10 days ago, with food to be bought and prepared, laundry and dishes to wash, kids to care for, and all kinds of other responsibilities, but now my brain is full of new memories that just weren’t there a week and a half ago. It’s kind of amazing.

One thing I’ll cherish is the memory of green: green leaves, grass, shrubbery. In England, especially at this time of year, green washes over everything on the landscape. From the sky, I could savor the patchwork patterns of green fields broken up by low stone walls. I soaked up the sight of rolling hills and shallow valleys layered with green grass and dotted with newly-leaved trees, fresh and new in the springtime, a different shade of green from the more mature colors later in the summer.

I spent the first 10 years of my life in Pennsylvania, which I previously suspected but now know for certain is a fine replica of England, the same rolling hills and patchwork fields with even the same low stone walls. Since I’ve now spent some years in the West and live in the state that’s euphemistically called “Golden” (but is just frankly “brown”), I miss the landscapes of green that surrounded me in earlier years. So this time in England recharged my green batteries for a little while, allowing me to store up memories of more soothing colors for the harsh, dry, brown summers here in central California. I even had a lovely day in Paris, which treated me to some rain along with alternating cloudy and sunny skies. I spent an hour just sitting on a chair in the Tuileries, soaking in the vivid greens dotted with bright splashes of reds and magentas. It was a feast for the eyes and for my memory.

No, I could have stayed home and bought that amazingly delicate and exquisite necklace I spied at the jewelry store. But I wouldn’t have these absolutely irreplaceable memories, stored up in my mind and heart, accessible at a moment’s notice on some future dry, brown, even stressful day. I’ll take the memories. They’ve expanded my whole mind and heart.

Now if I could just re-create this Secret Garden-y entryway in my front yard, I would be ecstatic. But I have the memory - and the photo.

Now if I could just re-create this Secret Garden-y entryway in my front yard, I would be ecstatic. But I have the memory – and the photo.

Read Full Post »

My dad has been dead for 2 1/2 years, which makes this my third Father’s Day without him, I guess. After this kind of time has passed, I can walk past the Father’s Day card display at the store without crying, which is nice. I don’t think I’ll ever walk past it without thinking of him, though.

Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 71. It tore my heart out to lose him like that. I think about him every day and miss all kinds of different things about him. We spent a lot of time together, so not having him around is strange. That space he filled in my life, which was a pretty big one, is still empty. Nothing else and no one else has seeped in to fill in any of that gap. It’s still a hole. But, again, thanks to the passing of time, it’s a hole that generally doesn’t leave me gasping and crying about anymore. It’s one I notice and think about; the hole now reminds me of all that used to fill it. I just think about all the things we did together, all we had in common, and all we would talk about.

As a mother, I understand pretty well how my mom felt years ago when she was a stay-at-home mom to three kids. I know exactly why she had to get us out of the house sometimes to JUST BE ALONE, for crying out loud. But what’s funny now is that because she sent my dad out with us kids to give her some quiet time, I now have all kinds of great memories of spending time with Dad. In her efforts to get us out of her hair, she gave us a gift.

Dad took us all kinds of places. We never lived in any big towns, mainly rural areas, so there probably wasn’t a lot to choose from in the way of cool ready-made activities, but my dad found the seeds of treasured memories. He took us to a nature preserve we just called “the deer park,” near Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.

My dad took this picture of me and my little sister at the “deer farm” during one of our many trips there.

It was this wonderful wooded area that had a large fenced-off area within the trees that was dotted with deer. Mom would give us some supplies from our food storage, and off we’d go to stick our hands inside the fence and feed the deer some dried corn or wheat or something. We’d feel the roughness of their tongues as they licked the food right off our palms. In my memory, the area seemed quite large; walking around the whole perimeter was a long distance. There’s no telling how big it really was, but it still seems vast to me inside my head.

Dad also took us to little local museums and to parks and creeks. On one trip to a creek, he took some photos that document forever how he put my little sister’s bikini top on upside down. He took lots of photos, which he developed as slides. So we don’t have family albums; we have boxes full of slide trays. I even have good memories of sitting with our family in the quiet and dark of an evening watching the slides. I can hear the whir of the fan on the old slide projector and smell its mechanical smell as I think about it now, even.

All those rural areas gave us so many places to roam and play. We lived in Pennsylvania, where there was plenty of snow. Dad would take us sledding, steering us on our big Flexible Flyer down hills packed with snow. It was wonderful. We would also go on walks, hiking around through the woods and lanes where we lived on farms, observing and talking. He took pictures of those times, too.

Dad took this picture of me on a path near where we lived in rural Pennsylvania. I loved it there. Dad was very pleased with how this photo turned out. I like it too, except for 1) he’s not in it too and 2) my hair is hideously chopped off. Ah, well.

I could go on and on about all the memories I have of Dad, but it would take up a book, and it would probably bore you. What’s important is that I have memories to treasure. Now that he’s gone and I won’t see him for a while, I can pick those little gems out of my mind and browse them at my leisure, keeping myself company with what we had together while I wait to see him again. It’s Father’s Day today, and I remember him and honor his memory. But every single day he’s gone is just another opportunity for me to think back, to treasure those memories, and to thank him within myself for what he left behind. And Mom, thanks for making him leave the house with us.

Read Full Post »