Christmas Tree of Memories

It is Christmas Eve.  We have a beautiful live Christmas tree in our living room, a tall Fraser fir … with nothing more than star at the top and lights this year.  With cats in the house, we’ve always been careful to put the breakable ornaments near the top, out of reach of playful paws.

Cat Under the Tree    Cat by the Tree

This year, however, we have a new threat:  Winnie, a rambunctious puppy, our latest adoption from the local humane society.

Puppy and the Christmas tree

Don’t let that innocent face fool you …. This was the scene as I worked from home the other day:

Between Corbin, my 100-pound trusty running partner, and our newest family member, you are watching 160 pounds or so of dog playing keep away with each other.  Amazingly, the tree remains upright and the lights are twinkling as I post this, with Christmas Day just hours away.

The tree is still beautiful in its natural simplicity.  But I do miss the many ornaments we usually decorate with, and the memories they hold.  Over the years, we have been blessed with many four-legged family members, some already in their twilight years when they joined our family (remember Kruger? I wrote about him in several posts, including this one), while others enjoyed a full decade or more of life with us before we had to say good-bye (like our lovable duo Snowy and Duffy, who were remembered in this post).

A tradition we began years ago was hanging a photo ornament on the tree for each furry family member, and adding their ID tag to it after their death.  Each one brings back so many happy moments and stories, we find ourselves sharing as we hang each one — “Remember … when Snowy ate 3/4 of the box of Belgian chocolates while we were at church?” “Remember … how Mr. Mistoffolees would sit on the back of the couch and knead your head and purr?” “Remember … how Duffy would whine every time you stopped giving him a tummy scrub?”  “Remember … how Sadie loved leaping after the leaves  while we raked?”  “Remember … when the cats would nap in the crib?” “Remember … how Bruce knew the name of each of his toys?” “Remember…  the day we brought Corbin home from the humane society and he was so excited to get to the car he knocked your brother over to get in?”  Remember…. all the love … I can’t imagine our house without them.

I will leave you with a gallery of many of these memories (from last year’s tree), to carry us until next year when a certain puppy will have a photo ornament of her own.

  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, however you choose to celebrate! ~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

No matter how I tried, I kept coming back to our faithful four-legged companions, a fixture in our memories and photos when I look back on hikes, time at the cabin, holidays and just daily life in general.  My cats and dogs are integral to my memories of growing up, just as they are now to my sons as they grow into adulthood.

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ~ Roger Caras


Hike near Split Rock Lighthouse, Minnesota

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”Companionable” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Family Road Trips: Time Together that Breaks and Bonds

As parents before us always cautioned, “Time goes so fast, enjoy it before it’s gone.”  Words of wisdom, and words we tried to heed in between those other moments when every parent feels that a little alone time would not be so bad?  So it goes with the family road trip.

My recent travel consisted of acting as a companion to my son as he visited universities in Boston and Washington, D.C., while my husband and other son held down the fort at home with the four-legged family members.  As my oldest son and I traveled together for the week, I was struck with the thought that our days of the week-long family road trip are probably over – the boys’ summer activities, social life and work schedules increasingly interfered with trying to schedule family time this past summer, and in not much longer than a year from now, we will see our oldest off to college.  Time does go fast.

Geocaching along the highway
Running back to the car while geocaching alongside the highway, before mom threatens to drive off . . .

Our family’s road trips over the years are full of memories — the good, the bad and the ugly.  So it goes when spending 24/7 together in a car, in a tent, in a small rustic room of lodging, on the trail, in the heat, in the cold . . . .

Road-tripping across North Dakota and Montana
Road-tripping across North Dakota and Montana — endless fields, endless skies.

Our road trip a few summers ago to Glacier National Park in Montana involved the long drive across Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana to reach that stunning northwestern Montana scenery.  But don’t knock the scenery in between — the prairie land of North Dakota, the endless yellow canola fields of Montana, the miles and miles of blue sky in all directions, and the wildlife along the way.

Free range cattle
“Look, there’s buffalo!” OK, so the lighting was off, and they are free-range cattle instead . . .

After several days of exploring Glacier National Park’s trails and the surrounding area (I shared one stunning example with you in this post on the Iceberg Lake trail), it was time to reverse the road trip and head back home to Minnesota.

Entering the North Dakota Badlands
Entering the North Dakota Badlands

The novelty of 18 hours in the car over two days wears off more quickly on the return trip home.  Mom’s choice of music (driver’s pick) gets tiresome (or so I am told), my husband has trouble sleeping for nine additional hours each day as front passenger, and my boys have to continually find new ways of pushing each other’s buttons.  Sure enough, with each trip, new and novel ways to entertain emerge.  Enter “gum guy.”

“Raising a kid is part joy and part guerilla warfare.” ~ Ed Asner

Kat navigating through North Dakota

“Gum guy” ended up in “time out” status on the dashboard before his reign was complete.  He was the creation of my oldest son.  We are pretty sure that gum guy’s sole purpose on earth was to torture my youngest son.  I will say that gum guy left us in stitches before he was confiscated, as he had some witty one-liners in between his aggravating antics.

Gum Guy
Gum Guy

Seriously, though, when I think of the countryside we have explored by car together, sometimes traveling for hours by interstate, but often taking that road less traveled to see the nooks and crannies of the scenic side roads, I am grateful.  I hope my boys will be, too, as they look back years from now.

Road tripping provides opportunity to stop and appreciate the wonder of a changing landscape.  As one example of many from our road trip travels, we approached our stopping point for the night on the western border of North Dakota.  Storm clouds moved in and let loose some heavy rain for a time.  The clouds were still dark and heavy when the sun broke through on the horizon behind us.  The result was the most rewarding scene for miles — a rainbow which blossomed into a double rainbow, so breathtaking in its beauty that it even had two adolescent boys exclaiming in awe!

Double Rainbow in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Double Rainbow in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Never have we seen a rainbow so vibrant, so large.  We pulled the car over to a scenic overlook spot along the highway to enjoy nature’s special show. The sight left us believing that if we ran across that rugged landscape we would be certain to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. ~ Vincent Van Gogh

As the sun began to set, the rainbows faded.  My oldest son had discovered a geocache was located nearby; I called out for him to return to the car so we could finish our journey for the day.  When he shouted back to me, I turned to see his silhouette atop of one of the buttes, making his way back to the car.

Geocaching in the North Dakota Badlands
Geocaching in the North Dakota Badlands

Our trips to the big cities have been exciting, full of interesting museums, historical sites, eclectic food, sometimes posh lodging.  But our road trips in various directions across this diverse landscape of the United States have held memories you cannot create by buying a ticket or making a reservation.

 “Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.”   ~ Thomas Berry

Ciao! ~ Kat

It’s All About the Little Things

Which parent hasn’t searched the world over and then paid through the nose for the elusive toy that darling Jimmy whispered into Santa’s ear was the “one” special present he wanted this year?  (I confess, for me, it was a hard-to-get Lego kit that I ended up ordering online and paying almost as much in Federal Express fees to have it show up in time for Santa’s sleigh!)  Was the surprise on my son’s face Christmas morning as he rushed down the stairs to see what Santa brought worth every penny and minute spent tracking that toy down?  Of course.  I am not suggesting that joy cannot be found in gift-giving (and receiving), or that it is not part of the fabric of many of our holiday memories.

That Lego kit only seemed to be sold out near and far . . .
That Lego kit only seemed to be sold out near and far . . .

As our kids move past the magical Santa stage, though, if they tell us there is nothing they need or want, why are we so quick to ask insistently, “Are you sure there’s nothing you want for Christmas this year?”  Perhaps we should pay attention to those signals that suggest no “thing” is needed under the tree.

Christmas tree

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” ~ Albert Einstein

Looking back, the experiences of life are what make the memories, not the “things” we collect along the way.  When recalling a family trip, my sons do not say, “Oh, and remember the cool souvenirs we bought?”  Wait, I take that back when it comes to our road trip to Yellowstone – I had to reverse course and return to a “shop” that was in someone’s garage, marked by the pile of antlers and other bones in the front yard.  The “Jackalope” my son painstakingly selected, searching for just the right character in the little antlers jutting from the taxidermy creation, is still proudly hanging on his bedroom wall – but it is part of the memory of our travels through Wyoming that week.  The memories of the rustic, western landscape were reinforced by wandering through a boys’ paradise of fossils, skulls, and fur pelts.  Rather than the “thing” it was the experience of it that made the memory.

Mystic Lady ~ Wyoming
The Mystic Lady shop in Wyoming

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” ~ Robert Brault

During our memory-making family trip to Italy, what moment does one of my sons always recall when we talk about our day trip to Florence?  Seeing Michelangelo’s David?  No.  Climbing the steps to Giotto’s Tower?  No.  He always first recalls the moment when I lost the top of my gelato cone in the middle of a busy sidewalk, successfully saved it before it hit the ground, and ungracefully restored the scoop to the top of the cone as the gelato dripped down my arm and onto my purse . . . and one of the many “gypsies” chose to approach me at that moment, speaking Italian with hand extended asking for a contribution.  I replied somewhat sharply, “Go away!” — as I simultaneously wiped up the gelato drippings before they coagulated into a sticky mess.  My son informed me that she promptly called me a “witch-with-a-B” in clearly-understood English as she walked away.  My husband and sons found the whole scene amusing, and apparently it became one of their favorite Florence memories.  I was just happy to not have good gelato go to waste!

Italian gelato
The good memories of Italian gelato

“Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.” ~ Susan B. Anthony

So, as we move through the often hectic holiday season, keep in mind that those little things hidden among the big events and traditions may be the real memory-makers down the road.  Take time to enjoy the little moments – playing a game of cards with your family, undistracted by phone, computer, or the never-ending task list; enjoying a leisurely chat with a friend over a glass of wine or hot chocolate;  heading out for a walk with someone you care about (and the dogs, of course!) on a crisp winter night even though you “don’t have time”; watching your favorite holiday movie for the umpteenth time and letting the tears flow even though you know the ending (can anyone say “It’s A Wonderful Life”?).   Remember, you can always clean tomorrow.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: Mine

I have to thank Nitty Gritty Dirt Man in large part for the subject of this photo and post.  His recent post A Time Capsule to Call My Own (Part 2) prompted me to dig out my two boxes of “memories” up in the attic and start weeding through them.  As I took a lunch break at work today, I reviewed this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge theme, and decided to dump one of the boxes on the bed just down the hall from my office. These boxes are full of “Mine” . . . my old good luck charms, my old school photos and classmates’ photos, my old academic and athletic medals . . . and, as reflected in part in this week’s submission to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, some of my old papers and essays from not only college but also dating back to middle school!


The topics are sometimes interesting, sometimes not, but certainly varied:

  • Extraterritoriality in Anti-Trust Law
  • Rasputin: The Force Behind the Fall of Imperial Russia
  • Ethics and the Professor
  • Tourism Behind the Iron Curtain: An Analysis of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as Travel Destinations
  • Gnosticism and the Valentinians in the 2nd Century
  • The Symbolism of the Armor of Turnus
  • Heroes in Medieval Society: Beowulf and Gunnarr
  • Coffee in Columbia: Economic Opportunity or Exploitation?
  • Emma’s Disillusionment: The Search for Romantic Perfection
  • The Competitive Status of the Pharmaceutical Industry
  • The Sorrows of the Heart
  • The Neverending War: One Veteran’s Account of the Vietnam War
  • and let’s not forget those middle school gems: Mortician’s Monthly (published by the Underground Press) and my report on Niger: A Land Where the Harvest is Won with the Soul’s Scythe!

My thoughts, my research, my experiences reflected in interpretations of literature . . . all mine.  I look forward to browsing through them during the week, but then, with the motivation provided by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Man’s post, it is time to do a little weeding.

Ciao! ~ Kat