{Memories} My first dance

{Memories} My first dance

You know what sticks out to me the most about my very first school dance? It’s not the dress or the music or the dancing or the decorations or the school friends. It’s my sister-in-law.

I was in eighth grade, the big end-of-year school dance was supposed to be preparatory for high school. My mom doesn’t do hair or makeup or other girly things like that (although she did help me choose the dress!), so we invited my brother’s girlfriend, K, over. K must have been a senior at that point. She curled and pinned up my hair, helped me put on makeup (even at 13 or whatever age I was, I wasn’t much into makeup). And the thing that stands out the most in my memory is that K brought me a pair of heels to borrow.

It was just like having a real sister, which was nothing short of a dream come true for me. So, K, thank you. And thank you for continuing to be there in the big a little moments of my life.

Dress shoes

{Memories} Valentine’s Day

{Memories} Valentine’s Day

We always celebrated Valentine’s Day in our home, although it wasn’t at all about romance and it was completely about love and the people we love.

We would do the traditional boxes of valentines for school, and my dad always gave me a real, store-bought, Hallmark card (which was VERY special). My mom would bake the greatest heart cookies. I would set the table with the best china and real silver, a piece of chocolate at everyone’s place. And we would eat a fancy meal together, the finale being Cherries Jubilee for dessert. (Granted, Mom didn’t flambé the whole thing, just a single sugar cube on the top of each, but setting our food on fire was a huge highlight.)

Valentine’s Day was a family holiday. A special day to show those we love just how much we care. A time in the middle of a normal (even dreary) month to be together and celebrate togetherness.

I think I like that part best.

cherries

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{Memories} Holiday Baking

{Memories} Holiday Baking

I managed to bake two batches of cookies last week. Two! I’m very proud.

I carved out an evening from the schedule and invited a friend over and we got to work right away. My two kinds of cookies (peanut butter blossoms and spritz cookies — tree shaped this time) are better than last year’s one (peanut butter blossoms, what can I say? I like chocolate and peanut butter), but a far cry from the six or seven varieties I made the first Christmas we were married.

That year I was working part time and in school. I had more time around the holidays, and I was missing my family like crazy. So I did what I would have done at home — baked every family favorite cookie.

It took a while for me to realize that even with giving a bunch of them away and freezing more, there was no way 2 of us (1 who doesn’t even like cookies) would eat dozens and dozens of sweet treats.

It got me to wondering, why did we make so many different kinds in my family? Ironically, none were traditional cut-out sugar cookies or gingerbread men.

That’s where the memory comes in. Baking. With my mom. At Christmas.

I don’t know how she did it (really, the older I get the more it amazes me), but every year at Christmas she would set aside a special time to bake with each. one. of. us.

cookies

We could each pick our favorite kind of cookie and in our one-on-one time with Mom, we would bake.

As much as I loved my brothers, I also loved being creative at my own pace. No one pushing me to work faster, no one trying to influence my choices and decisions, no compromising to appease others. My choice every year were candy cane cookies, made with red and white dough, rolled into little snakes and twisted into candy cane shapes, then topped with crushed up candy canes.

I think back on it and wonder how on earth my mother had the patience to help me make those tedious cookies.

And she did it three more times with my brothers, making their favorites. And then she would make a few more kinds that she and my dad loved. So. many. cookies.

And wonderful memories.

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{Memories} Train Day

{Memories} Train Day

My parents visited about a month ago. Although it was early in November, this was their “holiday” visit so we packed the four days full of fall and holiday things, including a much anticipated bike day and a mini-version of a longstanding family tradition — train day.

The Drakes always had a large train set-up, from long before I was born. Every year at the start of the holidays we would gather all our boxes, pulling treasures out of packing peanuts. We would reminisce over different buildings and special pieces — special exclamations reserved for those pieces each of us had worked so hard on. Amid the unpacking we would also visit a “train store” and choose new model kits, replenish our stock of paints and brushes, and purchase any tiny (and extremely expensive) mechanical pieces we needed to get things going again.

Train day always meant that we covered the longest table we owned with newspaper or dropcloth, filled it with paints, paper plates, and paper towels. We would play Christmas music all day long and work through the painstakingly slow process of painting and prepping tiny plastic pieces to be glued together into a house or municipal building or barn.

We would gather our creative juices and create ice skating ponds, Christmas tree lots, camping spots and (best of all) an entire papier-mâché mountain complete with a working ski lift. It was messy and tedious and fun. We would order Chinese food and when it arrived take a bit of a break to settle our hungry stomachs. But it wasn’t long before we were back at it again, working late into the night.

I still remember my very first “model”. Too young to really be able to manipulate the tiny pieces required for HO scale models, my dad took me aside and helped me build a tiny cabin out of matchsticks. I still remember that year and the care and attention and time my father spent helping me with that little building — taking time away from his own projects.

Today, that little matchstick cabin sits on my own train set.

Matchstick cabin

Yep, I have one too. When my oldest brother married, my parents began the tradition of giving a train and starter track for each couple’s first married Christmas. I received mine December of 2010, when we had been married just three months.

Since then, Husband and I have visited a train store every holiday, often selecting a pre-built model simply because we didn’t have the resources to purchase all the paints and knives and special glues required to build our own.

This year, when my parents visited, they gifted us a brand new starter kit of paints etc., purchased our 2013 model and we spent two entire evenings building models. It was simply delightful.

Dad even built us a platform for our train (because when it’s on the floor, Ginger believes it is her job to attack it).

Model trains at Christmastime

I know model trains are new to Husband, and it might not garner quite the same allure for him as it has for me. Our family may not spend quite so much time, money and creative energy on trains. But I do believe we can pass on this love of model trains to our children someday.

In fact, one of these days my parents plan to hold an auction (with Monopoly money) to allow us to bid on pieces from their massive collection built over the course of our childhoods. What a fun day that will be!

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{Memories} a series

{Memories} a series

I have been thinking lately that I want to record some of the wonderful memories and traditions of my childhood. I have, at times, written out various important mementos of my childhood, but they are scattered and often inaccessible.

I want to record them for my own sake. For my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my own “someday” children. I want the loveliness preserved and also revisited. I would love to be able to read my memories to my children even as we create our own.

So in this {Memories} series, I’d like to just remember. Remember those beautiful things. And, honestly, they may not mean much to others, but I will write them for myself — because I feel drawn to.

The things I will record are those things that have been woven into the fabric of who I am. And, I hope, will show my children someday where they come from. It is memory, but it is also identity. And I believe it is worth recording.

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For my Dad

For my Dad

Me and my dadThe fact is, there is no way a single blog post could encapsulate my relationship with my dad. It just won’t happen, so I’m not even going to try. Even an entire blog about it would probably be woefully inadequate.

My dad and I have the kind of relationship that brought tears to our eyes during the Father/Bride dance at my wedding…in fact, it brought cascades of tears rolling down my cheeks, and everyone else’s. Even the caterer was crying! All those emotions can’t be written, not truly.

But it’s Father’s Day, and I want to share just a little something that sticks with me each and every day.

I am my father’s daughter. I have his skin, his hair, his height, his intense and introverted personality. I have his love of the outdoors and his joy of service. But I also have a lot of things from my dad that aren’t genetic. I have nuggets of wisdom and insight that he began instilling in me before I even remember.

Me and dad at the beach.

There was one little, seemingly insignificant moment that has literally changed my life.

Before you can understand the impact that two little sentences have had, you first have to understand that while I am a writer by trade, I cannot spell to save my life.

It’s true.

I’m terrible at memorizing. In fact, I managed to make it all the way through elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and graduate school without EVER memorizing my multiplication tables. So spelling? Not so much.

I was in that “special” spelling group. You know, where we were tested on 10 words Wednesday and the other 10 on Friday because 20 words all at once was too much.

I remember even at a very young age, perhaps especially at a young age, getting so dang frustrated with myself because I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. We were doing homework at the kitchen table, and I was so close to bursting into tears.

That’s when my dad said something I’ll never forget. He looked me right in the eye and said, “You can spell anything.” He said it with such certainty, such authority. “You just spell phonetically,” he explained.

Of course, I had no idea what “phonetically” meant, but it was a big word. And big words were important.

Those two little sentences changed my life.

Hiking with my dad.

Because I didn’t just hear, “You can spell anything.” I heard, “You can DO anything.” I didn’t know what phonetics were, but I heard my dad tell me that I do things MY way. I do things different. And that’s okay.

Even today, when I face new challenges, I think of that instance. When I have a new challenge and I’m not sure I’m up to it, I remember that I can do anything! And I might not do it “perfectly” to someone else’s standards. But I do it my way. And if that’s perfect enough for my dad, it’s perfect enough for me.

With Dad, the day I left for college.

TC 7: Memories

TC 7: Memories

Tonight, as I look forward to meeting up with my family next week for a festive and lively Thanksgiving dinner, I am remembering so many dinners past that I cherish.

I grew up in a household with three older brothers. To say the least, our family dinners were lively, impassioned, often loud, and often full of laughter. My sister-in-law once told me that when she first started coming to our family meals, she was often lost and confused. “It’s like your family has its own language,” she said.

And she was right.

Those are memories that I dearly cherish, and it is something I can only hope to implement in my own home.

Next weekend will be the first time (other than in the midst of our chaotic wedding) that Husband will see my entire family all together. Our family has morphed over the years, adding spouses and children while spreading far and wide, but I hope there is still a bit of that old Drake family spark for Husband to witness. It is truly I sight to behold.