Tag Archives: Photos

The Happy Place: Where are your fondest memories?

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” –John Banville, The Sea

Hello friend,

Have you ever had that day when your whole system is simply flooded with memories? You know the day: when every turn of your head reveals yet another precious ghost from a golden time in your life. Have you had that day? I had it just last week.   I think I am still floating there.

My Dad’s birthday was coming, and it just happened to coincide with my kids having a couple of days off of school. So, my siblings and I decided to make the most and venture back to our hometown and the house where we all grew up to celebrate my old man and bask in that rare and precious gift that is time together.

After school on Wednesday, my kids and I loaded up the car and headed across the endless prairie, finally turning into the old cul-de-sac in the midnight hour. We awoke in the morning to the sun shining and the sound of my nieces and nephew playing. It was going to be that kind of a day.

Amidst the morning hum of excitement of all the little ones being together, my sister was the one who instigated the nostalgia-filled day by plopping down on the floor in the middle of the great room with several boxes of old pictures from our own childhood days, when we were the age that our kids are now. Of course, I was sucked in immediately.

The first thing that jumped out at me from the photos was all of the physical things—the changes to my house, my neighborhood, and the people in the photos.

I marveled at the vegetation! When we built the house when I was three, the neighborhood was new and bordered farmland. We had a big yard with a wide parkland behind it between us and the next “addition” of our neighborhood, with a series of ponds connected by a stream splitting the grassy expanse. We had so much space to play! One year we turned the parkland into a multi-hole golf course. The photos showed me why: it was so bare and treeless when I was a kid, both my yard and the park. The pond directly behind my backyard was wide open for us to swim or skate, depending upon the season. Now it is socked in with cattails and lined with trees on one side. Our long, flat yard was the home of most neighborhood games, and the football endzones were between two trees on one end (a bird bath and a tree at the other). Now those trees span the entire width, leaving no room to throw the ball through. Those photos brought it all back, though: the golf, the swimming, the skating, the daily games of football or Capture the Flag or Kick the Can, and the view across the park to my buddy Red’s house, just a quick run across the old red bridge that no longer exists. So many vivid images, so many smiles.

I had a good laugh at how my house—I still call it my house—has changed through the years of photos, too. The linoleum floor made to look like bricks in the kitchen. The spectacular red carpets and wallpaper (so much wallpaper!). The gold sofa that lived for generations in different rooms. The original microwave (which we saved and actually had to use on this trip when the modern one broke!).

Of course, all of the changes in the people and the blasts from the past kept a grin plastered across my face the entire time. There was “the ugly phase” that we all took a turn at, usually in early adolescence. There were the mullets, the wonky glasses, the splendidly awful fashion choices. We did it all!   And there were all of the old friends and cousins, most of whom I have not seen in decades but all whose photos made me smile and laugh. You know, like the shots of my birthday parties, where we would always have the challenge to eat all of our cake—angel food with raspberry sauce–and ice cream without hands.

I messaged a couple of the photos to a few of the old friends, but mostly I lamented that I have lost touch with almost everyone. Still, I was reminded of what a glorious childhood I had, filled with amazing friends and so much family. There in the house that I grew up in—the center of the Universe, it seemed as a kid—those photos had nostalgia coursing through my veins by mid-morning.

I got up from the photos to venture out to the yard to enjoy the children. They had already hooked up with the kids next door—nieces to the very kids I grew up with—and were playing kickball in the yard where I played so many neighborhood baseball games when I was their age. I grabbed my daughter and walked her over to show her the dry stream bed that I crossed every Summer day to get to the tennis courts that were always my happy place. I was a little emotional sharing the memory with her. How do you adequately convey to someone that they are walking right in the footprints of your happiness?

After lunch, we all walked on the road over to those tennis courts. On the way, my sister and I marveled at “the big hill” of our neighborhood, the one that was so big and daunting that we dreaded the thought of climbing it and usually ended up pushing our bikes up. It reminded me of the time when a neighbor kid and I sat sideways on our skateboards with our feet on the other guy’s board and rode down that hill in what I was sure would be the most dangerous feat of my lifetime. My sister and I laughed at how tame that little rise looks now. Perspective.

We arrived at the tennis courts, the site of so many memories and countless hours. Each Summer day, my brothers, neighbor boys, and I would cross the stream and play for hours and hours. I remember nights playing until it was so dark that we couldn’t see the ball until it almost hit us in the face. I thought of all the battles we had. I thought of old Mrs. Wade, who lived across from the courts, hanging out in her garden just in case anyone swore. I laughed at the thought of the Ovind boys, a couple of older, hockey-playing brothers from the other side of the neighborhood who would show up once in a while with their racquets and shout swear words and insults at each other all the way through their grudge match, drawing the ire of old Mrs. Wade. Ha!

I remember meeting another little kid from the other side of the neighborhood there one day. He had called me to arrange a match, and when he showed up, he had the fanciest racquets I had ever seen. I was in awe, as I had just graduated from my wooden racquet to my Mom’s metal one, and his were “boron” (the equivalent of gold, as far as I knew). He talked like he was a pro, too, since he played in real tournaments already. I was completely intimidated by his wealth and experience. Still, I kicked his butt, and he acted like a spoiled brat the whole time, throwing his racquets and screaming enough to get Mrs. Wade outside for a warning glare. I would never have believed that that same punk, about a dozen years later, would become my best friend for life. Life is so weird! Beautiful, but so very weird.

That tennis court is grown over with weeds now, and the neighborhood has built a playground on half of it. Still, the fences are there, and as I sat there on the bench looking out across the old court (and on to Mrs. Wade’s house—she is still there!), I was nearly overwhelmed by all that was flooding my heart and mind. How does a kid from frigid, windswept North Dakota find his home on a tennis court? Sitting there last week, I was so wildly grateful that I did. I was on the verge of tears, but for some reason I laughed instead. Happy tears.

Though it was late in Autumn, the day was unusually warm, giving me the rare gift of a flood of Summertime memories. I don’t get back to my hometown in the Summer anymore—usually just Christmas—so perhaps the avalanche of memories was due to a backlog of Summer images just waiting to be released. Whatever the case, I loved it.

We picked some apples at an old family friend’s house by the tennis courts, then walked home and played basketball in the cul-de-sac where I learned to ride a bike (and later broke my arm falling off a bike while trying a foolish trick).

It was still a balmy, glorious late afternoon when I escaped the crowd and set up my portable hammock in the corner of the backyard, hitched to the tree that marked a corner of the old endzone, the spot of my very first career dreams: the future John Stallworth or Lynn Swann for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I lay there and tried to write in my journal, I kept being distracted by my surroundings. Literally everywhere I turned, a new wellspring of memories flooded my system. I could name who once lived in every house across the park, all the games I had played in the backyard, all the times I had thud-thudded across that old red bridge with my sleeping bag under my arm on the way to Red’s house for a sleepover.

Everything. I remembered it all.

“I have so many emotions swimming around inside of me,” I wrote that afternoon. “It feels that way, too, like my stomach is being used as a pool and the memories and emotions are literally swimming around in there. It is all a lot to process. It knocks me off-center a bit.”

I suppose it is good to be shaken in that way from time to time. As often as I dispense advice about being present and living in the moment, I realize that some of best present moments involve looking back at past moments and having a good belly laugh or a contented grin. Maybe even a good cry.

So I let myself swim. I admit: I am hopelessly nostalgic when the moment sneaks up on me. Often, the memories come to me unbidden, usually when something in a journal entry sparks a happy thought. What I learned last week, though, was that to get the full effect, to be truly flooded with the memory, I need to go to the source. I am just grateful I still have a room there!

How about you? Which places in your world spark the fondest memories? Open up your journal and wander through the settings of your life story. Which spots hold the most memories for you? Your childhood home? A grandparent’s house? Your school? A Summer camp or lake cabin? A park or sports field or theatre where you spent lots of time? A workplace? A vacation spot? A whole town? What about those places draws out so many memories? Is it just that you spent a lot of time there, or was it something special that you did there or the special people attached to the memories? Do your best memories come from the place you spent the most time? Who are the people in your favorite memories? Are they still in your life or just in your memory? How about the place itself? Is the place of your favorite memories a place that you can still return to? When was the last time you were there? When you are there, do the memories come flooding back to you in an overwhelming way? Do you try to take it all in and let it affect you? How nostalgic are you? How much effort do you make to visit places that hold good memories for you? Is there one place in particular that you have never been back to that you would most like to visit again simply for the rekindling of memories? Are you good at going places in your mind and feeling the full effect, or do you need to really be there to relive your best memories well? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where is the place of your favorite memories?

Light up the place where you are,


P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. And share your memories. Tell your story. It is the best way I know to build bridges across difference.

DISASTER STRIKES!! What Would You Take With You?

“If we fear loss enough, in the end the things we possess will come to possess us.” –Rachel Naomi Remen

Hello friend,

True confession: I am a bit of a hoarder. My mother teasingly calls me “Pack Rat” over my unwillingness to throw things away. She ought to know: her basement is still full of my old t-shirts, trophies, and football cards. I wish I could say I have become better about that with age. No, I still find reasons to keep just about everything that comes my way, no matter how useless or out of style it is or becomes.

I am not sure where this comes from.

Some of it is pure nostalgia. I like the Air Jordan shirt I used to wear in college—when Jordan gear still had the Nike swoosh on it—because it makes me smile whenever I go through my stuff. Do I ever wear it? No. I like that smile, though. The same goes for old books I will never read again, expired driver’s licenses, even eyeglasses I used to wear.

Some of it is in anticipation of hard times. I save for a rainy day (and I am cheap). I know that the gurus tell us to anticipate abundance and live accordingly, but I am really bad at that. When I worked in Tennis, I got some free gear every year. Like a squirrel preparing for Winter, I saved everything I could in anticipation of the day, some years away, when I would return to playing, or when my kids would get serious about it. Same for when I worked in Running: I stocked up on free or cheap shoes so that I won’t need to shell out any money for several more years of exercising. It’s all here in my home, stuffed in every nook and cranny.

When we were planning to buy a house several years ago, one of my requirements was that it be large enough to accommodate two of my defining idiosyncratic needs: 1) my boatloads of nostalgia/junk (depending upon who you ask J), and 2) my own space to be alone. I got my wish: we have a house that has lots of space, all of which is filled. My clothes are in the guest room, and my everything else fills the large basement. I have multiple work spaces, where I am surrounded (suffocated?) by things at all times. So many things….

While tooling around Facebook this week, I came across a post by an old friend that upset my psychological apple cart. It said, “Worst thing I lost in the fire: 3 ½ years of journaling. With every entry I wrote a 6 line poem, that rhymed. Kurt Vonnegut wrote in an essay that journaling can be a daily cathartic moment, or some amount of time. But more important was a six line poem that didn’t need much thought, just do it; keeps the mind sharp. I lost somewhere around 1800 six line poems (not one was worth reading twice). So it goes.  

I suddenly felt so sad and empty. I just wanted to give him a hug.

It rattled me, too, though. Shook me up.

Twenty years ago, when I was just getting in the swing of writing often and long in my journal, I left it at a laundromat in Los Angeles. Later that night (after closing time), when I realized it, I had a little panic attack. In my short time with it, my journal had become priceless to me. I simply could not bring myself to imagine the loss. My heart pounded in my chest until the next morning, when I showed up at the door right before the place opened. The old janitor went back into his closet to look for my book as I sweated and prayed, sweated and prayed. When he walked out with it in his hands, I wanted to kiss him. I have been hyper-vigilant with each volume ever since, afraid to relive that trauma for fear it would not turn out so happily the next time.

And now my old journals are a part of my work as one my book projects, which only increases their worth. Though I am aware they hold absolutely zero value to anyone else, they truly are priceless to me.

In the aftermath of my friend’s tragic post—the fire had been several months ago, and he survived, but the news about the lost journals was new—and my bout of minor post-traumatic stress, I got to thinking about just what I would choose to salvage if I knew a natural disaster was coming and I could only choose a few possessions. In my head, I gave myself more leeway than someone running out of a fire, just enough time to get the few things I really wanted, even if they were in the very back of the closet.

Of course, my journals were the very first thing that came to mind. I have a few plastic totes full of them, but every page would have to come. I was so relieved at the very thought of saving them, at first I wondered if there was anything else that would sadden me much to lose (to be clear: in my imaginary scenario, no people or pets are in danger). Was it just the journals?

No, but I didn’t stray very far from that vein. As further evidence that the material possessions that I value most in this world are just my memories and impressions of my time here, the very next thing that I would take is the small box that holds my camera’s filled memory cards. These little coin-sized gems hold thousands and thousands of priceless moments from my life as a parent. They are also another version of the way I capture my world. When I am old and can no longer do much for myself, I will put on some good music and a continuously looping slide show of all of these beautiful images that remind me of my true treasures.

If I get to be greedy and take more than my journals and photo cards, the last things I will grab are my computers that have all of my other writing in them. Again, the representations of my soul and my journey win out.

I guess my theme is consistent. It reminds me of my Mom’s answers when my siblings and I would ask her what we could get her for Mother’s Day. She always just wanted us to make something for her, something from the heart, like homemade cards or art projects. The “things” I really want to hold onto from my house full of stuff are just things that I have made, stuff from my heart. The other stuff is just, well, stuff. I’m okay without it.

How about you? What are your most valued possessions? Open up your journal and think about everything you own. If a natural disaster were on its way to destroy your home and you could choose but a few items, what would you take with you? Do your answers come quickly to mind and strike you as obvious, or do you have to dig around and make some tough decisions? What is it about the obvious ones that make them so easy? Are they things that you have no way of replacing? Are they memory items, like family photos, souvenirs, or heirlooms? Are they very expensive to buy? Are they super-personal or more general? Which of your items are things that probably wouldn’t make it on other people’s lists? Why do those unique things make it onto yours? Do your choices have a consistent theme, like the way mine are all about how I chronicle my life? What do your choices say about what you value? If you lost absolutely everything you own—but weren’t out anything financially—how do you think you would handle it psychologically? I picture myself going catatonic for a while, a lá Cameron in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, unable to face the loss of my writing and photos. To what degree do your possessions, as the opening quote suggested, possess you? On a scale of one to ten, how materialistic do you think you are? Leave me a reply and let me know: If you had only one load to run out the door with, what would you take? 

Be your best today,


If today’s letter had you questioning, pass it on. And remember: The best things in life aren’t things at all. Cheers!

The Magical Power of Holiday Cards

DSC_1170“The history of your happiness is the history of your feeling connected.–Vironika Tugaleva 

Hello friend,

My favorite Facebook post of the whole week was the simplest one. It was my friend Veronica, who doesn’t post very often, and all it said was, “I LOVE getting Christmas cards! Don’t you!? Love the pics, love the notes, just love it! My heart lit up, and the biggest smile came across my face. All I could think was “YES! Absolutely yes! I am not the only one!” I have wondered if anyone else out there still felt the same blend of giddiness and peaceful nostalgia that I do with a holiday card in my hands at this special time of year. If they do, no one seems to mention it anymore. I don’t know how many people still send them, or if digital versions and regular social media posts have overtaken them in popularity. I think it was that sensation of my perhaps-solitary enjoyment of a dying tradition that made me react so strongly to Veronica’s simple but spectacularly positive post. I completely lit up at the thought. I have been so grateful ever since.

What is it about this little piece of mail? Why does it have this magical hold over me? And what is its place in the modern world? Is it just me and Veronica, or does this tradition have other loyal lovers who will keep it alive for future generations? I wonder…

One of my favorite hours of the year comes on a lazy morning at my childhood home on my annual Christmas visit. I grab the basket that my Mom keeps all of that year’s holiday cards in—dozens of them—and find a comfortable chair in a quiet corner to settle in for a while. Even as I love hearing what all of these old family and friends are doing these days, the very reading of it is a wonderful trip down memory lane. I think of the days of old and our time together as I grew from boy to man. It feels good to me in so many ways. I am a chronicler by nature, so I love to hear other people’s accounts of their own lives. And I delight in the thought that these old companions still find it in their hearts to share their journey with us each year. I understand that it may not take much more effort to stuff one more envelope and sign one more card, but it would be easier not to do it. So, I appreciate them sparing us a thought, even if this is the first correspondence since last year’s card.

I was taking a class several months ago, and somehow in his ramblings, the teacher landed momentarily on the topic of holiday cards. He declared that he cuts everyone off his list that he hasn’t spoken to somewhat regularly during the previous year, dismissing the idea of sharing his photos and family updates with people who are virtual strangers from lack of recent personal contact. I was floored! Cut people off just because you don’t talk to them? That would cut my list down to single digits! And those aren’t the people I really want the cards from anyway. I want them from the cousins and old family friends I spent my weekends and Summers with as a kid. I want them from my uncles and aunts who have nicknames for me and whose images fill my golden childhood memories. I want them from my high school buddies, who I still love like brothers but almost never speak to. The truth is, without an old tradition like the holiday card, all of these precious connections could be lost.

Sure, I understand that Facebook and other social media platforms make something that arrives through snail mail seem archaic and useless. After all, you can keep much more up-to-date simply by peeking at a friend’s page, if they are active on the site. Judging by their photos, comments, and shares, you can sometimes get a pretty good sense of what folks are up to and who they have become in the long years since you shared the good old days together. In the less than two years I have been on social media, I have been so pleased at how much better informed I am on the lives of my cousins and old friends and acquaintances, and I’ve been downright tickled at how some online relationships have popped up or flourished out of connections that had long since died out.

Still, there is something not entirely fulfilling about the digital relationship. Something impersonal. Distant. It’s almost as though the messages are cheapened because they are so easy to send, and it’s all done in public view. It’s a little superficial, even when it’s genuine.

And then there is the holiday card. Even though you know the letter and the photo collage are sent to all of their friends, they are also sent to you. Your loved one selected you for their list among all of the people in their life. They wrote your name on the envelope. They spent money to mail it to you. Maybe they even wrote an extra little note on your card. In any case, a real effort was made by someone you love to share themselves with you. You were chosen. That means something.

It’s a simple gesture, and it’s once a year, but there is a special power in the gesture. It gives me the warmest feelings knowing that people from a distant past are still carrying on and at least sparing a thought for me on occasion (enough to keep me on their list, anyway). I am well-aware of how deeply nostalgic I am, so sometimes I think it is only me who remembers fondly so many special characters from my youth. The holiday cards remind me that I am remembered, too.

Such a big part of the magic of the holiday season is gathering with your loved ones, many of whom we see only for this annual celebration. Holiday cards go hand-in-hand with that sentiment: it is a communion with loved ones that happens but once a year. It brings a special kind of joy to the season. Heck, even going out to the mailbox is fraught with excitement and anticipation each day at this time of the year. The MAILBOX! Perhaps that is an indication of how starved we are for connection and communion in this digital world, a world that has made the “old” types of communication—talking to each other and reaching out with a letter—awkward and uncomfortable for most of us. It takes something as archaic as a holiday card to get us to make the effort to reach out, as though we only dare to bridge that social gap when we have the excuse of tradition to make it acceptable. It is a fascinating social phenomenon.

I am so glad that many of us still hold on to that last vestige of the letter-writing age, enough at least to fill the basket at my Mom and Dad’s house and make a small pile on my countertop. It is what drives me to make the time every year to both make the photo collage and write the letter. As I write, I picture in my head all of the people on my list, the faces of friends and family members from a long and beautiful life. It warms my heart and reminds me of the one thing I am so lucky to be: connected.

How about you? How connected are you at this time of the year? Open your journal and explore the way the holidays remind you of your connectedness—or lack thereof—and how that gets expressed. Who do you gather with at this time of year? Is it always the same people? Do you choose this group because you want to or because it is expected of you? Who else would you like to join you for the holidays? If you could wipe the slate clean and choose exactly who would gather at your table, whom would you choose? What is it about the people at your ideal table that brings them there? Are they connected to each other, or are they all just individually special to you? How often do you communicate with these people currently? Do they all know how much they mean to you? What, if anything, keeps you from making that clear? Do you like getting holiday cards and letters? Whose are your favorites? Does a card in the mail mean more to you than an email, text, or Facebook message? Why do you think that is? Is technology on its way to making mailed holiday cards obsolete? Do you send holiday cards? Photo, letter, or both? If you are a sender, what is your motivation? Are you like me and have a desire to stay connected to loved ones from your past–even if it is just the once-a-year tradition–or do you do it more out of obligation? If you don’t send a card, why not? What would it take to get you to send something to more people? On a scale of one to ten, how connected are you to other people? Are you satisfied with that number? Would you be happier with a higher number? What can you do to change it to a number you would like better? The holiday season offers us a good excuse to reach out. A simple card can be the olive branch, the bridge to communion, or the reminder that your love is always there. Leave me a reply and let me know: Who will you connect with this year? 

Trade in your walls for bridges today,


P.S. If there someone in your life you need to reach out to, share this letter with them. Then let them know how much they mean to you. You will not regret it.