Family artifacts and a healthy lunchbox makeover

An ancestor's heirloom

  • By
  • | 9:00 a.m. November 10, 2016
Photo courtesy of - Be sure to ask your loved ones about the heirlooms they keep, to learn the stories from your family history before it's too late.
Photo courtesy of - Be sure to ask your loved ones about the heirlooms they keep, to learn the stories from your family history before it's too late.
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
  • Opinion
  • Share

My 90-year-old mom recently passed away. We have valued tender days with our kids and friends, sharing meals and memories of her generous and full life.

Now conversations begin about what we do with her possessions. Over her latter years, she downsized from a house and yard to a townhome, then to a retirement community apartment, and recently to an "assisted living" room.

By the last move, she had eliminated all but a few things that really mattered to her. There's the hand-painted wooden candleholder that was tucked in her great-grandparents' trunk on their voyage from Sweden to America in the 19th century, a wedding gown and "going away" dress, artwork, confirmation Bible and the 1940s maple hutch where she happily displayed many of the keepers.

So, now what do we do? The keepsakes that survived the cuts can't stay in our garage forever.

Here are thoughts about stuff that matters, and what to do with it.


When Mom's recollection of times past were still sharp, I asked her to tell me the background stories of the precious stuff; things that have been silent reminders of what makes our family unique. As I typed away item by item on my laptop, she got lost in the memories, and I got a glimpse of her as not just my mother, but a woman with a life and history that fed into my own.

Thanks to the reminiscing, her grandchildren have an appreciation of heirlooms they now enjoy.

Wondering about the "stuff" on the walls, shelves and in the cupboards of your childhood family home? Ask about it, and write about it. Now.


Last Thanksgiving, before the pumpkin pie was served, I noticed a glimmer in the eyes of 95-year-old Aunt Lorraine as she stepped away from the long family table. She returned with gift bags for the adult nieces, nephews and grandkids, each containing an English bone china teacup. Once the rage in the 1950s, her collection now lives on in our homes. I've tucked an easy-care succulent in mine.

As the holidays approach, skip the mall and give a family heirloom, make a family history photo book or scan tattered handwritten recipe cards and assemble a cookbook.


It's not easy knowing what to do with all of the stuff that mattered to a loved one. While deciding, I'll pack away items in bins, number the outsides and record the contents in my computer for easy retrieval when I am ready.

Give yourself a time period, and if you don't think you'll use a "storeaway," let it go. Their favorite keepsakes don't have to be yours.

Healthy Lunchbox Makeovers

"Sit on your bottom,

Face your food,

Hands to yourself,

It's time to eat!"

These are the words of greeting from Shannon the lunchroom aide, as elementary students eagerly enter the cafeteria every day. "It's important to set the tone so that kids have a positive experience during this short, 25-minute block in the school day," she told me. "Students have to eat to be good learners."

As she glides around benches and darts between long tables, helping kids open milk cartons or loosen tight thermos lids, she reminds kids not to trade food (there are too many food allergies) and, while it's encouraged to visit with neighbors, to use indoor voices, please.

Shannon has seen a lot of lunches. I was curious for a good story, so she told about the day she opened a thermos lid and, to her surprise, found a hot dog in hot water instead of the predictable soup or leftover spaghetti from last night's dinner. A bun and two packets of ketchup were packed alongside.

While peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are still a childhood classic, packed lunches are going through a makeover as both parents and kids take time to think healthy over the noon hour. I did my own snooping around and noted fewer prepackaged, high-fat foods in favor of fresh fruit, whole-wheat wraps, hard-boiled eggs (with shells removed), yummy green salads, veggie dippers and dips, yogurt and milk.

If your lunch-packing routine is already in a rut this fall, try these tips to get back on track:

  • Get kids involved: When they take ownership of making their own lunches, it's likely the food won't be thrown into the trash or traded. Start by shopping together. There are many healthy choices today and lots of practical lessons in the grocery aisle. You might ask, "Should we buy a case of individually wrapped pretzels, crackers and trail mix or instead buy big boxes and make single-size portions in reusable lunch containers ourselves?"

  • Create a lunch-making "deli station": Designate one drawer close to the breadbox, fruit bowl and refrigerator to store lunch bags and coins for purchasing milk and juice. Set aside a section in the refrigerator devoted to sandwich makings. Cut up and chill veggies at the beginning of the week, and they'll be ready to add to lunches in the morning.

"The grandkids are coming!" tip: When a preschool grandchild comes to visit while an older sibling is at school, pack fun lunches together. Cut out sandwich shapes with cookie cutters, decorate lunch bags with stickers and enjoy a fall walk and a backpack picnic in the park. Bon appe'tot'!

Scent Your Home with Woodsy Potpourri

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "potpourri"? A category on "Jeopardy"? It's that and more: a collection, a sort of mish-mash or hodgepodge of things, and when I'm out for a fall walk in a park or on a trail, I think of nature being a potpourri. There's so much to look at, smell and touch.

Imagine if you could capture and save that sensory experience. Well, you can when you gather nature finds and stir them up to create a beautiful and aromatic mixture that can be displayed in a bowl or small basket in your home.

First, collect the finds for this colorful woodsy potpourri mixture from your own backyard or from a nature walk with your kids. Then find the rest of the ingredients in your spice cabinet and even your fruit bowl.

Here's how to mix up a batch of woodsy potpourri from autumn's bounty:

Fill a large mixing bowl with finds such as small pinecones, seedpods, cedar chips or shavings, bits of bark, seeds and pressed colorful leaves. Add dried orange, lime and lemon peels, and dried orange slices (dry the peelings and fruit on a rack in a 200-degree oven for two to three hours, or set the items on a tray to air-dry for several days).

Add kitchen spices to this "woodland stew," such as whole bay leaves, broken cinnamon sticks, cloves and whole allspice. You may wish to add a few shakes of ground nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, too.

With a big wooden spoon, let your school-age child lightly toss the ingredients. Doing this step outside on a picnic table is fun and eliminates kitchen clean-up. An adult may add several drops of clove, orange or cinnamon oil (available in supermarkets and pharmacies).

Store the mixture in a large, nonmetal covered container for a week or two. Stir occasionally.

Scoop the contents into wooden bowls or decorative dishes, and set them around your home on shelves and tables. If you share some with friends, present the gift in decorative clear containers, such as Mason jars or recycled food jars with labels removed. Paint or cover the lids with fabric, and tie with a ribbon.

Note: Collect bark and moss from the ground or from cut branches, not from a living tree.

Donna Erickson's award-winning series "Donna's Day" is airing on public television nationwide. To find more of her creative family recipes and activities, visit and link to the new Donna's Day Facebook fan page. Her latest book is "Donna Erickson's Fabulous Funstuff for Families."

(c) 2016 Donna Erickson Distributed by King Features Synd.