Tag Archives: Heart-to-Heart

Stories on our Tree

 Our travel ornament tradition continues! This year, my favorite additions will be memory ornaments collected in southwest Colorado, Chicago … and an ornament that my youngest son brought home from a class trip to Washington D.C.  It was touching to discover that this family tradition has become personally significant to him.

fish

I like to read the stories on our Christmas tree.

pinecone

There are over-sized pinecones from a North Carolina roadside, hastily gathered during an accidental route departure (some would say we were “lost”) and “child-enhanced” with cheerful globs of green and gold glitter glue.

styrofoam ball

Other homemade creations include painted wood ornaments and glass globes, sequin-covered styrofoam balls and assorted paper art. Everyone knows who made which one, and there’s a story behind most. I treasure a wooden star that my Grandma Dugan painted during one of the Christmases she stayed with us before moving to the care center.


A few ornaments date back to my childhood: a worn-looking angel, painted with the abandon of a child who has better things to do; a felt star festooned with sequins that I sewed on, one by one, at the dining room table of my childhood home; a trumpet given by my best friend in fifth grade; a mirrored nativity scene from my Grandma and Grandpa Prior…

treble clef

Musical notes and instruments are a recurring theme, many of them gifts from my late father (odd term; he was never late for anything and was actually a bit early in leaving us!).

penguin

Near the top of the tree, just beneath the Star, is a silly looking penguin whose wings and beak flap with a pull of a string. It joined us during our brief residence in Elida, Ohio and is the coveted find as we decorate each year.

cacti

Every year, the kids receive an ornament that reflects a current interest; these now include ballet slippers, a lizard, virtually every sports ball, and an electric guitar (ssh… a new arrival this year). We also make it a practice to find seasonal decorations when we travel. When I look at our tree I see islands such as Hawaii, Bermuda, St John and Virgin Gorda. Canada, Mexico, France, Spain, Gibraltar and Morocco dangle from branches as do a good number of states and cities of the US.

cable car and pinecone

A pair of flip flops and a ballerina cow from Hannah’s trips to Anna Maria Island and Chicago… A gecko and a cable car from Zach’s trips to Palm Springs and San Francisco… Leaping dolphins that Matt helped pick out in Hilton Head…

zion keychain

Zion, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks were added in 2008, three brightly colored key chains to remind us of some great hiking adventures (we’ve found key chains make great, inexpensive ornaments when you’re too busy to shop for souvenirs). Similar keychains from Puerto Rico, Vieques, the Florida Keys, the Grand Canyon, Mammoth Cave NP and Aspen, Durango, Silverton and Ouray, Colorado dangle as snapshot memories.

star and music stand

It’s a well-covered tree this year, which helps hide the stripe of burned out lights near the bottom. As the kids settle into their homes and traditions, though, the branches will empty. Most of the ornaments will go with them as tangible reminders of their personal histories. Perhaps they’ll share the memories with their own children someday, just as I’ve recounted mine to them. And when they decorate their own trees, they’ll probably travel through a few memories… I hope so.

Because the familiar stories are usually the best.

Columbus Things To Do

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Chicago’s Ambassador on Wheels

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Invariably, travel exposes the best and the worst in us. It may also reveal the kindness of a stranger.  As a frequent and grateful recipient of food, tickets, upgrades, help in navigating airports and foreign cities and even dry clothing for a drenched child, I’ve learned that our capacity to help and invest in one another is limited only by our willingness to ask and/or receive.

Last weekend, as my daughter and I biked around Chicago, we impulsively took a shortcut that turned into a meandering detour. The city’s multi-leveled streets can make cross city navigation a challenge, and aware of our error, we wanted to avoid shlepping bikes down stairways to access the Lakefront Trail. So, I called out to a young guy pedaling in the other direction, “Can we get to the lakefront from here?”

He braked and rolled on over. “Well, you really need to…” He paused and smiled. “Just follow me.”

Ten minutes later, after an exhilarating ride through a parking garage and then down, around and under the city streets, he led us into the gated back parking lot of a warehouse building. He pointed to an opening in the fence. “That path will take you right to the lake trail.” We thanked him profusely, knowing he’d gone well out of his way to help us.

“That was really nice,” I commented to my daughter.

She agreed.

And once again, a single person acted as ambassador for an entire city —enhancing Chicago’s image far better than any tourism campaign ever could.

Isn’t that great?

 

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Beyond the Bay (The Marietas Islands, Mexico)

Sunset on Bay of Banderas

In my mind, it’s better to “go” than to wait for that perfect someday.  Branches of my family tree sag with somebodies who waited upon “somedays” that never came.  And so, when the choice is between traveling by myself or staying home, I water my plants and pack a bag.  Faced with a full week of unfettered days a few years ago,  I opted for Nuevo Vallarta and some time with a new favorite friend, Me.  On one of my final days, I joined a group sailing out of Banderas Bay toward the Marietas Islands.

One interesting element of traveling alone is the way it enables one to drift in and out of conversations.  One can listen to others -or ignore them.  There is the opportunity to engage with those around you or to take a personal retreat. One can rev up the brain or simply observe as your senses soak in the impressions of each moment.  The optimal method to achieving this mental utopia is to situate oneself within groups of a certain size.  My sailing trip from Nuevo Vallarta to the Marietas Islands violated that self-imposed standard by at least one hundred people.  The gleaming wood sailing vessel was elegant, classic, but unfortunately, much smaller than I had expected and hoped for…  My fellow passengers numbered only twenty and included cozy couples, a family of four and an extended family group of about twelve from Appleton, Wisconsin.  But, the morning sun was warming up a perfect day, and it was infinitely better to be there alone than to not be there at all.  I settled onto a white canvas cushion and floated into my own thoughts as we sailed out onto Banderas Bay.

Children climbing ladder and Mother; Puerto Vallarta

Grief over the closely-timed deaths of my parents, grandfather and marriage had created a watery barrier around my moments of joy and muffled its volume.  I was no longer somebody’s daughter, nor anyone’s wife.  And for this week, I was a mother traveling without children.  I was simply “Heather.”

The difficult part comes during the “look at that!” nudging moments. Sharing the remarkable seems almost an elemental part of processing it and saving it into our internal hard drive.  We define the extraordinary against those who are familiar with our ordinary zones.  That afternoon in Mexico, I knew I was sailing toward “extraordinary.”  And, instead of saving it for “someday,” I was ripping open the package and taking the first bite all by myself.

The Sierra Madres merged into a singular broad expanse behind us as the sea sprayed the bow and the afternoon rolled into a brilliant sort of serenity.  I somehow became part of a couple of family groups,  learning the early and mid-chapters of lives for which I’d be unlikely to read the endings.  Although the whale migration season had officially ended, two humpbacks swam in the mouth of the bay.  Our guide, Gustavo,  speculated that the stragglers were a mother and calf who had not been ready for the pod’s swim north.  I’ve watched bus-sized humpbacks breach with dramatic splashes in Maui’s waters. This was different.  We were further away, but the glimpse of determined mother with her child was a more intimate encounter.

Schooling dolphins by Marietas Islands

We cut sharply through the dark blue waters, eventually spotting the stumpy blobs of volcanic matter that are the Marietas Islands, but before we could get there, we were surrounded by about four hundred dolphins. They circled us again and again as a dancing, leaping parade. From the reactions of the boat’s crew, I knew it was unlikely I’d see such a spectacular display again.

The largest island loomed ahead like an overly puffed and then squashed marshmallow…

The magic of the Marietas lay just ahead.

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