The Shepherds in the field, the Wise Men coming from the East, the newborn babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, the angelic announcement that this was the Son of God…do I believe it all happened as the Bible says it did?

Yes I do.

Merry Christmas one and all!

My brother voted me as “biggest dork” in our family.  I voted my dad for the same honor.  My sister ended up winning the title with 33% of the votes.  Mom came in second. 

Thanks to one of my sisters, our family has discovered, a website where families can create their own website with very little work.  Sis stumbled upon it, set the site up for the three month trial period, and sent us all email invitations.  It was an immediate hit with the females of the family.  The men have taken a little longer to warm up to it, but they are starting to visit more frequently and leave goofy comments.  Once the trial period was over it was a unanimous decision to divide the small fee amongst us and continue the site.  We have a large family, so our individual cost was small.

This has been a fun way to connect with our extended family.  Our kids have really enjoyed it, playfully “dissing” cousins, uncles, and grandparents.  The poll section is quite popular with our crowd.  Families can create their own polls and then members can vote.  The site shows the vote percentages and, if the poll wasn’t tagged as anonymous, it shows how we each voted.  In addition to the “dork” poll our family has been polled on who in our family should be the next president of the U.S. (my autistic brother won that one), who in the family has the worst luck, who has the best luck, and what is the best candy to receive trick or treating.

The site has a calendar so we can post upcoming events important to our family.  Right now our calendar shows an upcoming birthday, my daughter’s dance competition, and an entry titled “Look at This!” that once clicked on, shows that it was posted for April 1 and “made” us all look.

Photos can be uploaded and commented on.  We have had everything from trip photos, to pictures of pets, to highschool dance pictures, and holiday happenings posted.  It’s been great to see how the family members who live out of state have grown and changed.

One of the most utilized areas of the site is the area where news of family events can be posted.  Teenagers receiving their driver’s licences, sports wins, team tryouts, ghostly activity, and holiday greetings have all been posted by family members.  We have even received requests to remember certain family members in our prayers.

There is a review section  for us to review movies and books, a chat feature, a file cabinet to store family files, and a family history area.  The “dorkiest” sister used the recipe section to post how to make mac-n-cheese from a box.

The website has been such a hit it has even become a topic of conversation when we get together for family dinners or when we phone each other.  It’s great to see the connections that are being made between the younger and older generations of the family.  We all agree that it has been money and time well spent. 

“Notice my socks.”  Grandpa stuck out his right foot so I could see that his sock had been cut down to the ankle.  “I did that so I can scratch my leg better.”   Only one leg itched, so only one sock had been cut down.

The quirky sock comment is one of the main things that sticks out in my mind about my visit with my 86 year old grandfather in January.  The other thing that I remember most about that visit is how lonely Grandpa seemed to feel.  Grandma died 2 1/2 years ago after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for a few years.  Though he tries to go about his daily life by doing such things as working in his yard or visiting with family, Grandpa seems as though he’s only going through the motions.  He said several times during our visit how much he misses Grandma.

For Christmas I decided to give Grandpa the gift of time–my time.  I bought him a game of Skip-Bo, wrapped it up, and taped a note to the top of the package stating that I would be visiting him once a month to play games with him.  When he talked to my mom a little later about the gift I had given him he said, “She doesn’t have to do that.  And besides, I don’t know any games to play.”  But that is just Grandpa.  He doesn’t want to be a bother.

The first time I visited in January we never got around to playing any games.  He just talked.  And I listened.  I nodded.  I smiled.  Not only did I hear about his socks and how much he missed Grandma, I also heard the schedule of the t.v. shows he watches, how his dog, Nikita, protects him, and how he is sure he comes from Tower of Babel times, because he can no longer understand what people are saying in church (said with a wink and a chuckle).  I enjoyed the visit and left feeling excited for February’s visit.

In February I took advantage of the President’s Day holiday and took my kids with me since there was no school.  I want the four of them to connect with their “Grandpa Great.”  We pulled the kitchen table out and placed Uno Attack on it.  Grandpa eyed the game warily and asked, “What is that?  I’ve never seen that before.”

“It’s a game, Grandpa.  You’ll learn it.”

The first time the game spit a bunch of cards out Grandpa laughed hard.  When he caught on that it would happen randomly throughout the game he sat forward and watched intently whenever one of us had to press the button.  We played several hands, Grandpa playfully accusing anyone that won a hand of cheating.  “Hoob”, who was sitting next to Grandpa, got into the act and started dishing him out Draw cards whenever she got the chance.  Grandpa had a good time retaliating.  “Huh” had brought along her guy pal, “Brass.”  At one point in the game Grandpa looked at “Brass” and asked what was wrong with him since “Brass” couldn’t seem to win a hand.

Unfortunately, “Brass” had to be home early, so we were only able to play the game with Grandpa for an hour.  As we were walking out the door the kids all commented that they had had fun.  “Mack” even asked me a few days later when we could do it again.

Yesterday “Yawlin” got out of school early so I took him with me for the March visit.  This time we brought the game Sorry.  Again, Grandpa looked at the game warily and asked, “What is that?”

And again the answer, “It’s a game, Grandpa.  You’ll learn.”

My second cousin “A”, who lives in the back portion of Grandpa’s house, was there when we arrived so we invited him to play.  Grandpa quickly replaced the batteries in his hearing aids so that he could hear us better and we began the game.  “Yawlin” was quick to give Grandpa pointers and moved Grandpa’s pawns for him whenever they were too far away for Grandpa to reach.  “A” ended up winning the game.  But, since it had ended sooner than any of us wanted, we continued to play to see who would come in second.  “Yawlin” got that honor. 

Grandpa and I looked at each other and in unison said, “Who gets third?”  The game continued. 

Now “A” and “Yawlin” were totally against me and rooting for Grandpa to win.  It came down to both of us needing a One card to get our final pawn into Home.  Back and forth we went drawing cards, the boys cheering whenever I drew a card that I couldn’t use and groaning when Grandpa did the same.  When Grandpa finally drew the coveted One card the boys were ecstatic.  And so was Grandpa.  He thanked me several times for coming.

My Mom told me that whenever she tells Grandpa I’m on my way he always says, “She doesn’t have to come all year long.”  But then Mom says, “I think he secretly likes it.”  I do too.

I thanked “Yawlin” for coming with me yesterday.  He grinned and told me he’d had fun.  I think there might be a connection forming between “Yawlin” and Grandpa Great.  I look forward to the April visit.  Maybe we’ll be able to play the Skip-Bo game that I originally bought when I decided to give time to Grandpa.

It is advice we hear often as parents, “Take care of yourself first so that you can take care of your family.”  I have always viewed the advice as permission to have some “me” time–soaking in a tub, reading a good book, going for a walk.  Today I realized there is more to the advice than just saving my sanity.  It is imperative that we take care of ourselves physically so that we will be healthy enough to take care of our loved ones.

Today I had a stark reminder about the importance of taking care of myself physically.  I finally got around to visiting a dermatologist to have a head-to-toe skin check.  Visiting a dermatologist has been one of those nagging items on my to-do list for quite some time, an item that kept getting moved to “another day.”  The reason for my visit was a dry patch of skin just above my upper lip.  I learned, to my surprise, that the patch was made up of actinic keratoses which are pre-cancerous cells that are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer.  There was also a patch of the pre-cancerous cells just under my collar bone that I hadn’t even noticed. 

The treatment was simple.  Each spot was sprayed with liquid nitrogen, effectively freezing the cells.  I now have an unsightly red swelling above my lip and a blister under my collar bone, both of which may last up to eight weeks.  Though actinic keratoses are not considered serious, finding them has served as a reminder for me to have regular check-ups with my doctors.  My dad had to have malignant melanoma removed from his nose a year ago.  I am grateful I discovered my less serious cells early.  Hopefully I won’t ever have to go through what my dad did.  Skin cancer can be prevented.  Wearing appropriate clothing and sunscreen while outdoors is the best way to prevent it.  I am certainly going to set a better example for my family now.  I’m sure the kids will start calling me the “sunscreen Nazi” but it is too important to ignore.  Being vigilant with our health is one of the best things we can do for those we care about.  If we remain healthy we can take care of them.

There is vinyl lettering on our front door proclaiming that “Huh” is now 17 but still “car-less” (she keeps hinting that she could really use a car).  Back in January the door letters advertised that I had reached the ripe old age of 40 and so all visitors should be quiet around the “nearly dead.”  Thanks to my husband, and his latest hobby, vinyl stickers on the front door are our newest family tradition for birthdays.  It is a tradition the neighbors like witnessing.  I love celebrating birthdays, so over the years our family has developed several rituals that we use to celebrate.  Since birthdays have continued to be on my mind since my last post I have decided to share some of the ways we celebrate birthdays in our family.

One easy way of singling out the birthday child is reassigning their chores to their siblings.  They enjoy taking it easy and watching while their siblings (and sometimes parents) wash the dishes, take out the trash, or clean up dog doo in the yard for the day.  I also take my kids to lunch for their birthday.  If their birthday happens to fall on a school day I check them out of school during the lunch period.  They get to choose the restaurant and we usually end up getting back to school slightly late.  They have never complained about being tardy.  I take full advantage of the one-on-one time by asking them all about school, their friends, and whatever else comes to mind.

For the other two meals of the day the birthday child gets to choose the menu and I fix it.  For breakfast we’ve had everything from fruit crepes, to oatmeal, to breakfast burritos.  One child even requested their favorite cold cereal.  Dinner requests tend to be Italian in nature, pizza or spaghetti or lasagna, although once we had submarine sandwiches and another time we had shepherd’s pie.

As far as gifts go, we set a limit on cost and allow the birthday child to ask for gifts within that amount.  The siblings all shop at the local dollar store and choose one gift that they think fits the birthday child. We parents also get something from the dollar store in addition to the regular gifts we’ve purchased.  On the evening of the birthday celebration we all gather in the family room to present our gifts one at a time.  It has been amazing and sometimes hilarious to see how creative the kids can be in their purchases.  Once, one of the football players in the family received foot odor spray to use in his very ripe cleats.  I believe he received deodorant at the same time from someone else.  Fortunately he’s a good sport.

Of course we always have the traditional birthday cake with candles and we sing “Happy Birthday” in the worst voices possible.  Sometimes I am able to talk one of the kids into baking the cake for the birthday child.  One cake ended up with every candy sprinkle we had in the house.  The six year old baker was quite proud of his creation.  Birthday rituals, however simple, can add some fun to birthdays and can help the one whose life is being celebrated feel special.  Some traditions can begin quite unintentionally, such as our latest vinyl letter tradition, but the unintentional traditions are sometimes the most enjoyable.  All of the kids are now wondering what the front door is going to proclaim on their birthday.

NOTE:  For more birthday ideas please see the page “Nifty Notions.”

There was actually a father who spent 10 million dollars on his 13-year-old daughter’s birthday party.  That is an extreme case, but it does seem as though parents today are under pressure to outdo each other on birthday celebrations for their kids, or to at least succumb to some unrealistic standard of birthday celebration set by others.  These types of parties can create stress on the family budget as well as time stress.

I recently learned of a website that seeks to bring awareness to this problem.  I’ve added “Birthdays Without Pressure” to my favorite links on this blog.  The site is maintained by a group of parents and professionals in the St. Paul, Minnesota area.  Their desire is to get people discussing the problem and then, hopefully, bringing about change by offering alternatives to expensive and time consuming birthday parties.  Parents allowing birthdays to be out of control is really only a symptom of a much bigger problem, that of overindulgent parents and the sense of entitlement it develops in their children.  With entitlement, children may begin to believe that money and the things it can buy mean happiness and love and that it is the responsibility of the parents to provide bigger and splashier parties or gifts.  It is a problem that needs to be addressed on many levels, but providing sensible birthday parties can certainly be a start.

The “Birthdays Without Pressure” website asks the questions:  What is out of control?  Why have birthday parties gotten out of control?  What are the consequences?  And what can parents do?  The site also shares real life examples of overindulgent birthday parties.  There is a place on the site where others can share stories about out of control birthday parties they have witnessed.  More importantly, there are ideas listed to help people create their own sensible birthday celebrations.  There are also ideas on how to keep gifts from getting out of control and still other ideas for family birthday rituals.  Though I’ve never heard of a 10 million dollar birthday party happening in my area, I have been aware of some parents who felt frustrated and even a little angry when some of their young guests expressed dissatisfaction at the type of party being offered.  I think it is a topic well worth exploring.

Last night our dishwasher let out a screech and stopped working.  My husband tried everything he knew to get it running, but finally declared the appliance deceased.  We did what any super busy family would do.  We went to bed.

This morning I had to face the ribs and potatoes dishes from last night and the cookie sheets from our cinnamon crescent roll breakfast.  A part of me felt like complaining at the additional time it would take  to get the dishes done.  But, I knew complaining would get me absolutely nothing, so I bit my tongue and, instead, rolled up my sleeves and began filling the kitchen sink with hot water and dish soap.        

Doing the dishes by hand brought back many memories.  I grew up in a family of eight children that did not own a dishwasher.  Our large family created many dirty dishes at mealtimes and we each had to take our turn washing the dishes by hand.  As a teenager I developed a system that I thought very efficient.   First, let all utensils soak in the sudsy water as the sink fills, then wash dishes in this order: utensils, glasses, plates, bowls, mixing bowls, and finally pans.  I used to tell my siblings my order was best.  I think they all ignored me and developed their own system for doing the dishes.

I was pleasantly surprised  to see that I remembered my system today as I washed the dishes.  Since we have become so dependent on our dishwasher we don’t own a dish rack to let dishes air dry.  I solved the problem by placing the wet dishes inside the dishwasher and I made sure to share my problem solving ability with my husband.  I don’t think he was as proud of me as I was.

Trying to remain positive in spite of my morning routine being derailed by a bunch of dirty dishes, I started to think of what our family could learn from the death of our well-used appliance.  This is the perfect opportunity to let the kids hear how grateful I am that we have an emergency savings account.  We will not have to go into debt to buy a new dishwasher.  We will be able to pay for one in cash.  And, as a little plug for myself, I think I’ll let the kids know that most of the money in our emergency savings account has come from what I earn as a substitute teacher and as a crossing guard.  Perhaps they won’t tease me as much about doing my crossings if they know that my doing so has prevented them from having to do dishes by hand for the rest of the time they live under our roof.

Finding the time to buy a new dishwasher is going to be the real challenge.  Some, maybe even all, of the children will get a chance to do dishes by hand before we find the time to shop.  Yes!  Will they appreciate modern conveniences more?  Probably so.  Will they still take modern conveniences for granted?  Maybe not for a little while.  Will they learn that sometimes circumstances require adapting and problem solving?  I truly hope so!

“Huh” is the poor unfortunate soul who gets to experience adapting and problem solving first.  She is assigned evening dish duty for the week.  I may not tell her that I let the dishes air dry in the dead dishwasher.  I think I want to see how she solves the problem herself.  One thing for sure, we are all going to hear her loudly ask, “why do these things always happen to me?”  And her siblings and step-siblings are all going to be secretly glad that it wasn’t their turn for dishes.

I had hoped my first post on my very first blog would be clever, inspirational, and uplifting, or at the very least, useful to those who happened to stumble upon it.  Instead, I find myself dashing off a post at 9:19 p.m. at the exact same time “Huh” is trying to pick my brain for ideas on how she can present a family history assignment for her Price of Prejudice class.  I give her a suggestion, then type a few words; give another suggestion, and type a little more.   It’s a little frustrating for both of us.  She doesn’t have my full attention and I know I’m failing at typing the magnificent post I had envisioned.  I guess it’s all part of being “Mom.”  And after a day just being Mom–housework, planning cubscouts, shopping for softball equipment, getting children to various destinations–I suppose it is a fitting end that I only have time to type a few quick words.  Being Mom takes alot of time.  My family is my top priority and therefore many of my days consist of just being Mom.  It is time to give my daughter 100% of my attention and then check on “Yawlin” to make sure he has finished copying his spelling words.  Here comes Mom.