I love souvenirs.

Not those expensive treasures brought back from faraway places to be proudly displayed. I'm talking about those Please-Mom-I-Gotta-Have-This-NOW souvenirs that invariably cost too much and are forgotten or broken before the vacation laundry is finished and the photos developed.

That doesn't mean the stuffed dolphin the dog appropriated, the commemorative coins and grass skirt were a waste of money, even if I did feel like a chump buying them. That goes for the dirty rocks and smelly shells the kids insisted be lugged home, even though the suitcases already were jammed full.

I've come to realize the value of these ridiculous souvenirs appreciates dramatically over time -- as memory boosters. You've had the same epiphany in your house, I'm sure. One gray winter day, you find a shell under your daughter's bed and suddenly you're back on a sunny beach building sandcastles. After a horrific day at work, that T-shirt you discover crumpled in a ball in the back of your son's closet erases your grim mood as you recall the talk you shared with your teen hiking last summer.

Keep an eye out for these discarded souvenirs as you're cleaning up after the holidays. When you're visiting the grandparents, see which of your childhood vacation souvenirs are still stashed in the attic or basement (and e-mail me the memories that go with them at eogintz)

Here's what I found in my house -- and the memories of stellar 1999 trips that go with them:

-- THE ELECTRIC BLUE DR. SEUSS WIG 8-year-old Melanie insisted would be just the ticket to top her Halloween costume we bought when we visited Universal Studio's new Islands of Adventure Orlando theme park about six months pre-Halloween. Of course, she never wore the wig, but my husband did when he took her trick-or-treating. And it sure reminded us of the fun we had on a sweltering day visiting Seuss Landing where we whirled through a 24-foot tunnel as The Cat in the Hat came to life all around us and played tic-tac-toe with a giant Seuss creature. Months later, my teens are still laughing about how my screams on the park's roller coasters embarrassed them and how the Amazing Adventures of Spider Man was one of the few theme-park attractions to live up to its hype, combining a fast-moving ride with 3-D special effects. See if your teens agree with mine that this may be the most hip theme park anywhere. (Call Universal Studios at 1-800-U-ESCAPE or www.uescape.com.)

-- THE GLACIER ROCKS the kids collected from the Nellie Juan Glacier in Prince William Sound as we sat eating cheese and crackers, waiting for huge ice chunks to calve off, crashing into the water with a loud roar. We'd anchored our temporary home, the fishing boat S.S. Babkin, nearby. Led by the Babkin's captains, Brad and Kjersti Von Wichman, we'd hiked to the top of a nearby ridge to glacier-watch. No one else was anywhere in the vicinity. On the way back to the fishing boat, we picked up some iceberg chunks to stock the cooler and the kids drank ``berg'' water, proclaiming it the best they've ever had. We kayaked by a huge bear so busy snacking on salmon he didn't notice us. Giant Orca whales swam right by the boat. Eagles soared overhead. No wonder our days on the Babkin proved to be one of our best adventures ever. (Seattle-based Wildland Adventures arranged our trip on the Babkin and to Denali National Park. Call 800-345-4453 or www.wildland.com.)

-- THE T-SHIRTS from Crested Butte, the historic Colorado mining town that proved such a great bet for a family getaway in the snow last Christmas. There's a lovely relaxed feel to the mountain and the tiny century-old town that made us immediately at home. Forget fancy ski clothes and overpriced snooty restaurants. What you will find are a town full of kid-friendly haunts and a mountain a fourth the size of Vail with plenty of challenges and personal attention for the asking at ski school. Even better, up to age 12, you'll pay their ages for lift tickets. (Call 800-544-8448 or www.crestedbutteresort.com.)

-- THE STILL-SANDY SHELLS from Captiva and Sanibel islands, just off Florida's southwest coast, where 8-year-old Melanie and I spent a few days on a mission to collect as many different shells as we could find. Jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico, Sanibel and Captiva provide a natural catchall for some 275 different kinds of shells -- they're piled inches-deep in some spots -- and a vacation haven about as far away from the Other Florida as a family could get.

Besides shelling, there's fishing right from the dock, sailing at the Offshore Sailing School's family learn-to-sail program, spring training games in nearby Fort Myers, and kayaking amid the mangroves in the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The beaches are made for snoozing -- if the kids will give you a break. (We stayed at South Seas Plantation, a sprawling condo resort. Call 800-554-5454 or www.southseas.com. Call the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce for other options at 941-472-1080.)

-- THE JIGGLING HULA DOLL from Maui where Melanie and I sipped frothy drinks out of coconuts under the thatched roof at the Grand Wailea Resort's `floating'' restaurant. We told each other knock-knock jokes through dinner. Who said Hawaii is about romance?

The 780-room Grand Wailea is every child's dream come true, with a 2,000-foot-long river pool with water slides, waterfalls, caves, rapids and even a water elevator. If the kids need a break from the water -- or you from them -- there's one of the best-equipped, biggest children's activity centers I've seen. (Call the Grand Wailea at 800-888-6100 or www.grandwailea.com.)

Happy New Year.

(c) 1999, Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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