Sunday, December 31, 2006

My New Year's Resolutions

During December, I talked about setting family goals, and I set five. But after giving it further thought, I realized these goals were actually small things I wanted to do to achieve overarching changes in our family's life.

The whole purpose of creating this blog was to document my efforts and research on building family. In reviewing what I've written so far, I realize I have six goals for my life and my family:
1. Show the Love. I want to show my family how much I love them. Too often, the small acts get lost in the daily grind. For me, showing the love means making family a priority, as well as little acts of love and physical expressions such as hugs and kisses. My family growing up was never much for physical expressions of love, so this is a bit of a challenge for me. Since I work from home, another challenge for me will be more focused and structured about when I work so it doesn't interfere with family time or my sleep. When I'm sleepy, I tend to be grumpy, and that's NOT showing the Love.
2. Build Family Identity. This means doing things together as a family, such as chores and family dinners. It also includes shaping our family identity by taking actions that reflect the values we, as parents, want to give our child. Obviously, the other goals support this goal.
3. Become a Healthy Family. I mentioned taking a family walk once a week as a goal. It's a good one, but my real goal is for us to simply be more active, eat better, sleep more and take care of ourselves. As the mother, I feel I set the pace here, and frankly, I'm not setting a very good one.
4. Widen Our Family Circle. This means inviting friends and family into our home more, finding more family friends and reaching out into the community as a family.
5. Be a Financially Responsible Family. Financial health can be an overwhelming topic, but there are standard guidelines you should follow: Build an emergency fund, eliminate debt, build savings, buy a home, make sure you have a will, make sure you have life insurance for both parents, make sure you have disability insurance, save for retirement, and so on. For our family, we need to rebuild our saving by curtailing eating out and frivolous spending. That means a budget. I also want to make sure we write a will in the next four months.
6. Create a Family-Friendly Home. My house is pretty kid friendly, but there are things I neglect that would make it more comfortable and more functional for the whole family.

So those are my final resolutions for the New Year and an outline for what I'll be discussing on this blog.

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Prayer for December 31

Each Sunday, my goal is to share a prayer that focuses on family. This week, I've found a list of resolutions for parents on It could easily be a prayer - and, truthfully, it is my prayer to become a person who practices these resolutions. Here's a few lines from the list:

In 2007, I resolve not to teach my children to have a happy, productive life, but rather to help them choose a happy, productive day. ...

I resolve to relax, while remembering that relaxing does not mean resigning. ...

I resolve to make my approach to parenting reflect the notion that raising a child is more about drawing out what already exists in a youngster rather than about putting in to fill perceived deficiencies. ...

I resolve to make myself dispensable and assist my children in becoming increasingly in charge of themselves and their own lives. ...

I resolve to recognize that my children are in my life as much so I can learn from them as they are so they can learn from me. I will be open to the lessons my children offer me and honor them for helping me learn and grow.


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Feast of the Holy Family Day

I'm not Catholic, but all my friends are. Except for one, who's Jewish. I'm not sure how I wound up with all Catholic friends, particularly when you consider that growing up I knew a grand total of one Catholic, plus my uncle and aunt who had only recently converted and so didn't seem to really count. But that's what happened.

Still, I'd never heard of the Feast of the Holy Family Day, which happens to be the Sunday between the New Year and Christmas. In other words: Today. What do you do on the Feast of the Holy Family Day? Here's what the Manila Bulletin says:

Today is a good time to remember our family and pray for our human and spiritual lives. The festivity also gives us time to reflect on the value and sanctity of the family unit. ...As parents, we must be thankful that we are blessed with children. ...The feast also reminds children to obey and respect their parents at all times. It is a good opportunity for us to forgive those who wronged us and ask the forgiveness of those we offended. We must avoid behavior which is contrary to God’s Divine plan for the family. We must also address conditions which have negative effects on the family, like poverty, lack of health care, hunger, and other political and social justice concerns.

There's a lot more to it, but these were the parts with more universal appeal. I like the idea of having a day after Christmas and before the New Year to focus on the family.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Kitten Saves Family of Four

Well. I guess I'm wrong about cats not being very caring pets. A family picked up a "free to good home" kitten, who reciprocated by saving their lives when a fire broke out. Amazing.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Caring for Elderly Family Members

The recent death of my husband's grandmother has me thinking about caring for elderly family members. His grandmother had been ill off and on for two years, and most of the care fell to her husband, who, thankfully, is a bit younger and in good health.

He's not alone. A study by the Urban Institute found that people 75 and older provide more hours of caregiving than people in any other age group.

She had two daughters in the area and another daughter that lives away, but teaches and is off summers. She also has a son who lives in another region, but travels a lot with his job. Neither of the two children who live away had been in recently. I suspect late summer was the last time she saw them. Of course, this had been going on for two years, so maybe they thought she'd recover. I'm not sure. It's not my place to judge.

But the situation did make me wonder what role my Hubby and I would play in caring for our parents. My grandmother lived with us for a time after my grandfather's death. Near the end of her life, she lived with my aunt, who had a huge house and could more easily accommodate her. My mother took a leave of absence from her job to be with her during her final month. She also lived nearby and saw her several times a week. Her other children also visited weekly and would spend the day sitting with her. She was never alone. Even before the end, she saw her children regularly.

So that's my model. I know I would do anything to care for my parents - get a bigger house, not work, move in, whatever I can do. But it's easier, of course, when you live nearby. So many families are so spread out and disconnected, I wonder what will happen in these families as their parents die.

My hubby's family is a different matter. He doesn't get along with his stepfather, who never really embraced him as family. Plus, his stepfather has his own son, and I'd assume he'd take care of his father. His mother and he are in touch, but the relationship between our family and her is rocky.

Which makes me wonder what role children should play in their parents care. In cases where the family isn't close - where there have been very real problems, such as abuse, addiction or detachment - should parents count on them to drop their lives and run to help?

Are we as humans obligated to care for family members who didn't care for us when we needed it? And if we don't, who will?

And what about siblings who don't have children? Will I be able to care for my younger brother if he outlives his wife and doesn't have kids? If I don't, then who?

Incredibly, that's what 101-year-old Clarice Morant does. She cares for both her 89-year-old sister and her 95-year-old brother, with limited assistance. Incredibly, there are younger family members - but they live far away and have only stepped in when Morant was hospitalized and too sick to do the job. She recovered and took up the role as lead caretaker.

Most people don't have a Clarice Morant in their lives. And so, many elderly people live alone - apparently without family, such as this woman, who was found strangled after a neighbor missed her.

My friend thinks we are. That's what family does, she says. But I'm not so sure. Yes, in a perfect world, we should forgive one another and love one another and basically be just like Jesus or Mother Theresa or Gandhi. But I'm no saint. And sometimes I like to see karma collect. If my conscious will let me. Something tells me even now that it will not.

I do wonder, though: If this person wanted nothing to do with you while they were of sound mind and body, why do you think they want you rooting around in their life now?

I guess some bridges you just have to cross when you get to them.

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Working Advice for Working Parents

We have a work-hybrid family. Both of us work, but my work is more flexible and less demanding. It's still a struggle to find family time, but I hope it's a bit easier than it would be if I worked 40 hours.

But both parents working full-time is more the norm than not. That means family time is competing with time for errands, housekeeping, the personal pursuits and friends that make life worthwhile, and keeping up with Lost, which in my house is considered an unbreakable weekly commitment.

How do you make it all work?

This article from the BBC suggests that if you want a close family, you must schedule time to spend together and make it a top priority. As the piece points out, it's too easy to take "just one phone call" from your mother or watch "just one show" until you've whittled away the time you would've spent together.

The advice is obviously simple - but it's also completely on the mark. You have to ignore the phone, turn off the TV and focus on each other. You also have to be creative about incorporating family time into your errands, chores and hobbies.

You'll find more articles on how parents can create balance family life with careers under the Work-Get a Better Balance tab.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Review: The Book of New Family Traditions

This week's book is The Book of new Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday, by Meg Cox.

Cox breaks rituals into holidays, family festivals and ceremonies (such as birthdays, first day of school), daily, weekly and monthly rituals, (such as bed time stories, family game nights, monthly pizza parties), and rites of passage rituals. For the most part, these are collections of "here's a neat idea this one family did" that may or may not work for you. For instance, while I love the idea of marking a young girl's first period in some positive way, I really don't see me hosting a dinner for my pre-teen daughter with a group of women who share stories about their periods.

However, I might let her take the day off or buy her a special ring - two of the other suggestions in the book.

What struck me about many of the rituals in the book is they did not start out as conscious efforts to create tradition - and I think that's true of most rituals. You do something once, and it creates memories, so you do it again because your family liked it. Or you do something because your family did it. Rituals evolve, and anytime I've tried to just create one, it's backfired on me.

But rituals are important. Cox lists 10 good things rituals do for hildren - and I would add families. Among the list is impart a sense of identity - a pressing issue for families in a society that favors the individual's pursuit over the family. Rituals can also help heal from a loss or trauma, teach values, help us natigate change and provide comfort and security, according to Cox. But more than this, I think traditions and rituals bind us as a family.

There are certainly some ideas I plan to try. For instance, one of my goals is to widen my family circle by inviting friends and family into our home for dinners and board games. I've been struggling with how to do this - we're always too busy or the house is too messy or we're too exhausted. The book mentioned that one woman held Soup Dinners, where she issued an invitation to family and friends to stop by on a specific day from fall until spring for soup. She used paper bowls and plastic spoons and people could come and go as they pleased. She offered hospitality, a warm home, conversation and soup.

So in the New Year, my family will have Soup Sundays. Sundays are perfect because the house is usually clean and we're well rested. Soup is perfect because I can make it in a crockpot. But for now, I think I'll reduce the guest list from 60 to a few families, but invite different people each week.

I also loved her ideas for family prayers, since this is an issue for us. She suggests a moment of silence or a very simple, Quaker prayer: "Us and this: God bless."

There are some great puberty rituals, but you need to be pretty New Age or free spirited to try them.

For example, the book offers advice on going on a vision quest. The suggestions are great - have your teens do community service and discuss what it means to be a man or woman in society - but I just can't see ritualizing that. It seems like your results might be better if these discussions were more informal.

The book also seems to miss several opportunities, such as a ritual for marking family deaths or remembering loved ones, a ritual for a new baby, or a ritual for moving to a new home.

And some ideas are just silly to me. For instance, the book tells you how to make a talking stick for family meetings. Anybody who's seen Absolutely Fabulous will never be able to take that idea seriously. I also hated her section on chore rituals, which largely involve you distracting your children instead of them pitching in.

I liked this book - I really did. And I'd love to recommend you buy this boo through this blog so I can get credit from Amazon. But, to be honest, you should probably just check it out at the library and skim through it. Or, you can sign up for a free newsletter on family rituals through Cox's website. You can also view a sample newsletter online.

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My Family Tries It: Cariboo

Last night, my family pulled out all the games Little Bit got for Christmas and gave them a spin. It was our first game night and last about an hour - maybe a little less - before the adults gave out.

The thing about playing games with Little Ones is you're always a little bored. If they're frustrated, it's no fun for anyone because you sure aren't in it for the challenge. What's fun for adults is to see them get excited about the game - so you want a game that's really exciting.

Enter Cariboo, a game by Cranium.

From it's very design, Cariboo appeals to children. It's brigth and colorful, of course, but what really sells it is there are little doors that you use a key to open. They pop open and either reveal a blank space or a neon ball - sort of like those rubber balls you can buy for a quarter. Then, you put the ball in a little hole and when you have all the balls, it forces open a treasure chest with a big, gleaming, purple jewel in it.

Heck, even the adults get excited about finding one of the balls - who doesn't love a neon surprise now and then.

But for my daughter, this is nothing short of Pure Gold. Keys? Balls? Gems? Treasure! Are you kidding me? The only thing missing is a princess crown and candy.

And the game does all of this without batteries or noise, which is nice for adults who want a quiet evening after a long day.

Cariboo comes with two set of cards, beginner and advanced. The beginner has shapes, colors and numbers. The advanced offers letters, which you must find somewhere in the word on the little doors to open it. It also has numbers, but you must count objects and find a door with the matching number of objects on it.

My Little One had already outgrown the beginner set, but the advanced is a bit of a challenge - just enough to keep her interested. Plus, she's learning that letters work together to create words and to read a word, you have to look at each letter. Surprisingly, this is hard. Children are trained by alphabet books to only look at the FIRST letter of a word. This game forces them to move into the word.

It'll be interesting to see what her nearly-five friend thinks of the game. But for the three to four set and parents, it's a winner.

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'When Parents Are Deployed' Airs Tonight

It's easy to talk about war and 'supporting the troops,' but how many people really appreciate the sacrifice made by military families? For instance, did you know that an estimated 700,000 children under five are separated from a parent overseas in the U.S. military? I didn't. That's a lot of children missing at least one parent - and keep in mind, for many of those children, there may only be one parent.

PBS is spotlighting this issue today in a special program called, "When Parents Are Deployed." It's hosted by Cuba Gooding, Junior and will feature the Sesame Street cast, so it should be appropriate for the whole family.

The point isn't to be pro- or anti-war, but to educate people about the needs of these families. Still, war is a fact of life and children are often introduced to it via the nightly news, which can be just frightening or too inhuman. This show could offer a wonderful opportunity to explain war and the issues that surround it with little ones.

The show also discusses how families stay in contact. If you're a military family - or a family who has someone who travels extensively for business - this show will give you some ideas about how to stay connected. I particularly love the ritual where the father and son both say goodnight to the moon, knowing the other is doing the same thing halfway around the world.

You can check your local PBS affiliate online for times.

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When a Family Member Dies

Late Wednesday evening, we received word that my husband's grandmother had passed away. She was frail and in ill health - they'd been feeding her via a tube for a week now after she broke the bone under the gum area and couldn't swallow. She was already quite thin and weak, so we weren't expecting much in the way of recovery.

Still, there was no definitive warning. She had just been released from the hospital to a therapy nursing home, where she was supposed to learn how to swallow and walk again. Apparently, she'd just finished a therapy session and returned to bed, where she died without any warning signs.

I fear she died alone, but am unsure. She was something of a mother to my Hubby - she apparently raised him during his preschool years. I'm not sure how to handle this with my Little Bit. We saw her Christmas Day, and Little Bit was afraid of her condition and confused by what was going on. She wanted to know if she'd be all better. I told her maybe - sometimes people did get better. But sometimes, when people got really old and sick, they had to go to God to feel better. And if they did that, we wouldn't be able to see her again.

I don't know if that was a good answer or not. Today, we told her she'd went to God to be better. Little Bit seems to feel this means she'll return. I'm afraid with what we told her after our miscarriage, she's going to be very confused about this whole God/death thing. I want her to feel good about God. I want her to be okay with death - at least until she's old enough to work through it for herself. Some sites I've read suggest not bringing God into it at all, since Little Ones can misunderstand and develop fears about God taking them away. I don't want that.

I guess there isn't a right answer. But I feel like I'm farther away from a good answer than I want to be. Maybe that's because I'm so ambivalent about death and God myself. I wish I felt more certain. I hope she doesn't think I've sold her a bill of goods on God one day. I want her to have more faith than I do, or than her father does. I think it would make life - and death - much easier to take if she did.

Today, I'd planned to report on a book called "New Family Traditions," which presents rituals for the family. There are a lot of good ideas, but I notice there is nothing on dealing with a family member's death. There is a chapter on pets and some ideas for rituals to perform when pets die - but nothing about humans. I find that very odd and, frankly, a disturbing indication about modern values. It's more important to have ceremonies for pets than people.

True, children will lose many pets during their life and there aren't rituals for this. But it's also true that there are a lot of human losses - miscarriages, deaths - among family and friends and even your children's friends' families. Shouldn't there be a small ritual for these losses that looks beyond the normal funeral home visit?

This has come up a lot for us this year. A good friend lost her four-month-old to SIDS this year, and she's struggled to redefine her family, to establish new rituals to remember her son and to help the family heal. Her preschooler is the hardest to deal with, because she simply can't grasp the idea her baby brother isn't going to "finish being dead."

As I mentioned, we had the miscarriage this year. Because I was so sick during the first trimester, I'd told Little One about the baby. She was very disappointed when she learned the baby wouldn't be coming and she still asks me sometimes, "Did we have our baby yet?" We did attend a Walk to Remember, held to remember babies lost in miscarriage and infancy. They had a very nice ceremony where Little Ones could make signs commemorating the lost child and wear them during the walk. Then we walked around a downtown park. We gathered to hear each child's name read - even if it was only Baby Lastname - while a cello played softly. We were given a small silver token with an angle on it and then we all released white balloons into the air.

It was so sad, watching all those white balloons rise and float away like little souls. But it was very healing and I was grateful that they'd taken steps to involve siblings.

Once again, we're faced with questions about handling death in our family. Do we bring Little Bit to the funeral home? The funeral? She can't even be quiet for a church service - and what will she make of so many people being upset? I don't want to hide our emotions from her, but I also don't want to overwhelm and scare her.

I'll be posting more about this in the days to come and welcome any input from readers about handling deaths within the family.


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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

YMCA Offers Family Resolution Help

The YMCA is doing a huge push to build families - probably because this is their competitive edge over other gyms, which seem to view children as incidential. I guess it could be because the Y has a sense of mission....

Anyway, the Y issued a press release about family resolutions. I'm taking it verbatim, because you're allowed to do that with press releases, but I've cut out all the obvious tips like hold a family meeting:
  • Make "well-rounded" resolutions. The YMCA suggests developing lifestyle resolutions that balance spirit, mind and body. Consider areas including physical activity, nutrition, community service/volunteerism, worship, learning and fun.
  • Make resolutions specific, realistic and measurable. Develop resolutions that are inclusive for the whole family and consider each person's starting point. Choose goals that are simple, measurable and put the family on the road toward a healthier lifestyle.
  • Accentuate the positive. Make more resolutions which focus on adding healthy activities rather than restricting unhealthy ones -- adding afresh fruit snack every afternoon will naturally help replace the afternoon candy bar.
  • Don't "over resolve." Consider what's realistic given realities of your family current daily life that cannot be changed, or at least not changed overnight.
  • Track progress in a fun, interactive and visual way. Put resolutions in writing and display them on the refrigerator where every familymember will see them regularly. Be creative; make resolution posters and charts for mapping progress.
  • Celebrate with positive, healthy rewards. Honor each small successwith positive, fun and healthy rewards that meet the needs of the entire family. Schedule regular check-ins, such as a monthly family dinner discussion, and celebrate your achievements, both big and small.
  • Prepare for setbacks and work together to overcome barriers as a team. Setbacks aren't failure; they are times to call in the troops for reinforcement. If a family member is having trouble meeting a goal, brainstorm together to develop a new strategy.
The Y also is offering a free New Year's family resolution worksheet, links to other online resources, and ideas for family resolutions.

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Resolutions: Why do we do them?

My Hubby has challenged me about my insistence on making New Year's Resolutions. He referenced this article on Lifehacker about how resolutions promote "deficit thinking."

I'm not going to pretend I'm a better person than I am. I told him where to get off.

But perhaps I was too hasty.

When I was young, everybody made resolutions. It was just what you did. And everyone broke them. That, too, was part of the ritual of the New Year - a sort of life/death cycle that recognizes we all have room for improvement, and yet we're so human, we can't actually do something as drastic as change.

This was back in the old days, when if you had a temper, that was just who you were - it wasn't something you worked on or read self-help books to fix. It was just the way things were with you and everybody knew it and took it into account. Certainly, people crossed you - and then you had to decide whether you were bigger and badder than the person who'd made you angry. For years, people treaded lightly around my Papaw, because that man had a quick temper, a mean streak a county wide, and a tongue that would make the devil blush. So people didn't mess with him.

Call it playground therapy: You could have a temper, but one day there might be a bigger bully who'd make you regret it. Eventually, most people developed temperance about their outbursts.

Now, many people simply refuse to make resolutions, which always strikes me as A. cycnical and B. arrogant. But it's probably neither - most likely people are just responding to the new expectation that they will actually work on their resolutions and, before next year rolls around, change themselves in some fundamental way.

And who wants to do that?

Certainly, it is stressful to always be working on something, to always be trying to fix yourself. And shouldn't your family be the one place where you can relax and be loved for who you are, flaws and all?

Over the years, I've learned you can promise change all you want, but with family, you must simply change. Don't tell them you're going to - they won't believe you. Others might offer support, guideance and hold out hope for your change. But family watch your actions and that is what they will believe.

I have lots of goals for my family. I want us to have great family dinners with long discussions. The reality is I have a three-year-old who seldom wants to eat with us, I usually need a nap and then to work, and Hubby is usually running off - literally: He's a runner. And really, we're all fine with that.

I want us to be more outdoorsy as a family, but often we're too tired to do much at the end of the day and weekends we spend playing catch up. Plus, have you ever tried to get a preschooler to go on a long hike? Our Little One is not particularly athletic and doesn't seem to have any outdoors inclinations at all.

So I think I'll keep it simple. Here are my new New Year's Resolutions:
1. Take a family walk once a week, weather permitting. I'm not going out there in the snow, rain or extreme cold. Little One can take her big wheel.
2. Show the Love to my family. Too often, I'm grumpiest to those I love the most. This year, I am resolved to show the love more. I won't promise not to be grumpy - that ain't happening. But I will promise to show affection more.
3. Write a will by spring. Step one: Try out the software I have that lets you write your own will. This has been on the backburner for some time, but since I like to view myself as a responsible parent, I want to get this done.
4. Do something for someone else as a family once a month. I wanted to do a volunteer project with Little One, but after some research, I think that may be too ambitious for now. So, instead, I'm going to look for opportunities to do good things as a family, even if it's just having friends over for dinner.
5. Do something each week/month that makes my house a home. This may be as simple as buying new towels.

So those are my resolution.

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Greetings for Wednesday

Today is the second day of Kwanzaa and the principle of the day is self-determination.

My favorite family story today is about Virtual Family Dinners. This is a fascinating idea that goes beyond videoconferencing. The system is designed for elderly family members who all-too-often eat alone. It would detect when they sit down to dinner and alert a family member who's available to chat with them. They'd be able to see each other and chat.

According to a doctor interviewed in the story, there are health benefits to eating with others. Potentially, this could increase the health of elderly family members and postpone hospitalization or the need for out of home care.

We're still about two years from seeing this on the shelves, but it's cost is estimated at between $500 and $1,000 per household.

This week, we're talking about family resolutions and other ways to celebrate the New Year as a family. This will be slightly hypocritical of me, as I plan to celebrate with friends after dropping Little Bit off at Grandmas. But before then and New Year's Day, I figure there will be plenty of opportunities for a family celebration.

Stay tuned...
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I have a confession: I am not black. And nobody in my family is black. So I have no qualifications for discussing Kwanzaa.

However, I am a reporter, which means I'm very experienced at talking about things which I know nothing. So here goes...

Kwanzaa can be celebrated as a community, but it is frequently celebrated in families - hence the coverage here. It begins after Christmas and runs for seven days, with a different principle featured each night. I love this idea and the principles are well-worth contemplating:
Night 1: Unity
Night 2: Self-determination
Night 3: Collective work and responsibility
Night 4: Cooperative economics
Night 5: Purpose
Night 6: Creativity
Night 7: Faith

eHow offers a great guide for Kwanzaa, with tips for celebrating, decorating, and Kwanzaa for kids. Wikipedia explains the history of Kwanzaa, noting that this holiday is celebrated almost exclusively in the U.S. You can also read some of the criticisms of the holiday on Wikipedia. Kwanzaa apparently upsets some people - but then again, some people are just easily upset. I like what this blog - on - has to say about it.

There are lots of online crafts that children can do - or adults can do and pretend their children are doing them - if you're into that kind of thing. Obviously, I am not. So I found this much more practical and educational list for ways families with chidlren can mark the holiday.

If you're curious about whether or not it's appropriate to celebrate Kwanzaa if you're not an African American, here's what the Official Kwanzaa site says: Maybe - it depends. You can read it for yourself if you want details.

For more information about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa site or the MelaNet Kwanzaa Information Center

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Pyschology Today Explains Holiday Family Troubles.

Why do we put so much pressure on the holidays? Why is it so hard to be around people we love and with whom we share DNA?

Here's a real answer, from Psychology Today. Fascinating stuff. It covers blended families, negotiating Christmas after marriage, and Christmas when only one person in the marriage is a Christian. It also explains why your siblings and you resort to being 10 again!

This piece is from 1998, but is very illuminating. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer a lot of promise for better during your next big family holiday.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Families in the News

On Tuesdays, I've been sharing family news from around the world. I try to find the more interesting and unusual stories, of course. In the future, I'll be breaking these down and offering them daily instead of in one big clump once a week.


One of the points of this blog is to talk about how we can extend our family circle to include friends and community. In
Secret's out: Join family at Kwanzaa
we learn about a family doing just that for Kwanzaa.

One of the most devasting problems families can face is addiction. It destroys many family efficiently and without mercy. And most families don't recover.

In Maryland, courts can order parents who lose their children to go through the Family Recovery Program, an experimental program. The Washington Post followed one of the first families to go through the treatment program - a mother and father who lost their child shortly after her birth in 2005. The mother tested positive for cocaine.

In the last installment of the series, reporter Mary Otto catches up with the family just as the courts decide whether or not to return their one year old daughter to their custody. What happens is heartbreaking, but with a touch of hope for two members of this family.

While it's sad the choices these individuals have made, what frustrated me most was the fact that the father is threatened with his job when he leaves to take care of his daughter. I've read about poor families being forced to make this choice over and over: If they must leave to take care of their children - and usually the situations were it's obvious they do need to choose the children - they lose their job. If they choose the job, then their children are endangered and they can loose their children. Most middle class families wouldn't face this choice because their employers value their skills and won't dare treat them so disrespectfully.

What I don't understand is why any employer would threaten to fire an employee for choosing to help their child. And you can't say, "Well, maybe the guy did it once too often," because he hasn't even had custody of his child for over a year! Clearly, this is an employer that didn't value this man as a person with a child who needed its father.

How do we expect to break the cycle of poverty if employers keep giving people these type of choices?

I'm not even quite sure how I found this, but since we're always hearing how gay unions and gay parents are ruining family life for all the straight people, I thought it was interesting to see how gay families are changing things for gays. Gone are the wild days of open sexuality, it seems. Everything's turning kid-friendly as more gays become parents.

And if you think you had a rough time with travel this holiday season, you might get a kick out of this story about a family - we're talking major extended family here - who has been coming home for Christmas to the same house for 101 years.

Finally, here's a profile of a family that probably has too much togetherness. Many people are glad to just to have survived their family during the holidays and are looking for a few months of reprive. But for the Droppo family, getting back to work means even more family time. They explain what it's like to run a family business in
Working with relatives can be tricky business.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Forgotten Families of the First Christmas

I've probably focused too much on negative aspects of Christmas for a blog about family. That's because I think there are plenty of expectations for families during the holidays. During the other 345 days of neglecting our families, I'll be more positive.

But it's also because this is a hard season for many families.

For me, it's hard because I should be just six weeks from giving birth to our second child. But during the second trimester, the baby died in utero. I thought I'd worked through most of the grief, that I'd accepted it. But much of my grief has resurfaced during this celebration of a baby's birthday.

I also have some close friends who lost their four month old to SIDs this year. I'm betting Christmas isn't that joyful for them, either.

I guess that's why this year, I find myself thinking of the unnamed families in the Nativity story:
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they were no more."

-Matthew 2: 16-18

So when we rejoice with Mary and Joseph, let us also remember the children of Bethlehem, the children who didn't live.

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How to Have a Festivus Christmas

Want to ruin Christmas? Here's how: Do and say all of the things you've been dying to do and say all these years. That's right: Tell them off, give the snappy comebacks, and storm off to show how mad you really are. It'll be a Christmas to remember - your bad manners, according to this article, titled Dreaming of Norman Rockwell but having holidays with family.

And for more uplifting Christmas news, here's a fun roundup of family Christmas traditions, posted by real people. I notice a lot of happy family celebrations involve movies or church and food. Coincidence? You decide.

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Surviving Relatives During Christmas

It's no secret that I don't think you should hang around toxic relatives, even if it is the holidays. Have the strength to cut your losses and create a family that loves you, I say.

But sometimes it's not so black and white. Sometimes, we may be uncomfortable around our family, but still love them. We may be struggling for acceptance during a new phase of our life or we may just not have the relationship we really want - but that doesn't mean we want to walk away.

Or you may care very much for some family members, but seeing them means you have to see toxic relatives you'd rather ignore.

What to do?

A Better You Blog offers this article on "How to Get Along with Family." I particularly like Number 2, which reminds you to Be Protective - to guard your children, yourself and your heart. The others aren't bad, but I think this is the one we actually forget in our rush to "get along."

You can also read my blog entry on Toxic Relatives from Thanksgiving, which offers a few more links on dealing with toxic family members.


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Christmas prayers

It's Christmas Eve this Sunday. For Christians, this makes for a busy day - in addition to finishing your shopping, attending any family events and Christmas Eve service, you also have to fit in Sunday morning service. For reasons beyond my understanding, members of my immediate family will be attending three services tomorrow, two of which they'll participate. It kinda happened accidentially.

In honor of Christmas, this week's prayers are Christmas prayers.

Here's a simple prayer that could helpful to recite on Christmas Eve, when you may be busy with preparations for the big day:

As Jesus brought peace, turn us into peacemakers.
As Jesus brought hope, make us messengers of hope.
As Jesus brought love, rekindle love in us
So that the birth of the baby in Bethlehem
May bring a new beginning to our own lives.

The second Christmas prayer was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, who is best known for writing Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped.

A Christmas Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson

Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

And finally, here's a nice prayer for before the opening of Christmas present:

Lord Jesus, Wise men travelled for miles to bring you the first Christmas presents. So may we, too, remember with thankful hearts the love that comes with each present we open. We also thank you for the amazing love you have for each of us, and we thank you for the many gifts that you give us. Amen

For more Christmas prayers, vist:
  • The UK Prayer Guide

  • Collective Worship

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    Saturday, December 23, 2006

    Taking a Christmas Time Out

    If you've noticed I missed a few days posting, I have a good reason: My family gave ourselves a Christmas time out.

    The shopping was more or less done, the stockings were hung, Hubby had a few days off, and my stress level was through the roof. So we decided to leave town. I called and booked the Splash and Discover package - it includes a night at the Holiday Inn North at the Pyramids, passes to Caribbean Cove Water Park - an indoor water park located inside the hotel - and tickets to the Children's Museum in nearby Indianapolis.

    The water park was nice - not great, but nice. If we had older children, it would've been great. But the preschool play area was a bit cold for Little One, so we ran back and forth between the play area and the hot tub. We did spend a lot of time drifting in the Lazy River - which was warmer. And Hubby said the slides were fun. But I think we might have been just as happy with an indoor swimming pool.

    That said, the hotel was very family friendly. There were several places for families to eat, including a snack area where you could eat while still wearing your bathing suit. My favorite feature was the children's room, which had a TV where they could watch movies and craft area. There was a man in there who obviously isn't used to being around children, though - instead of trying to get the children involved, he just watched TV and would answer questions if asked. The cool part about this is they had all these games and puzzles you could check out and take to your room. We tried Don't Break the Ice, which was a huge hit with Little Bit.

    There were also pool tables, foos-ball tables, a mini-golf putting area and a ping-pong table - and all of these tables actually had the paddles, sticks, clubs and balls you needed to play them. Families were busy playing games everywhere. It was nice - more hotels should offer these features.

    Plus, kids eat free if the adults purchase a meal. So that was a nice financial break for us.

    Of course, Little Bit loved staying in a hotel and being able to watch TV in bed. She loved sleeping with us - and let me say, in a king bed, Hubby and I had what amounted to a very small sleeping-bag worth of space and Little Bit took all the rest of the bed. How can something so tiny need so much space?!?

    But the best part of the trip was the Children's Museum. If you're within a day's drive, go visit it. It is simply amazing. Seriously - it's better for children than Disney World, and I'm not the only one who's said so. My friend did, too, so it must be true.

    This place is A-MAZ-ING. No matter what your child's age, they'll love this place. Heck, we even saw a few college students on dates here. It is beyond fun.

    Little Bit's favorite thing was the Dinosaur exhibit where children could dress as Dinos and sit on Dinosaur eggs - soft, stuffed eggs, but also hard eggs in huge nests on the floor. She took this very seriously. We were there at least 40 minutes, the most of which she spent spread out over the eggs, protecting three football sized soft eggs from a young Raptor boy who kept threatening to steal her eggs. We could only leave when he and his mother packed up and left the area. Then it still took another five minutes for me to convince her that someone else would sit on her eggs.

    By the way, the Best Santa Ever also holds court here. He actually got Little Bit to sit on his lap without crying by telling her he wanted to see how much she'd grown since last year. She didn't smile - but for once, she didn't cry.

    Did I mention the Carousel?

    I'm not even going to try to cover everything that was wonderful about this place. Seriously, better than Disney. It must be the most child-friendly place in the world - and it's huge! They even have a planetarium and a real train engine inside.

    But the best part is we're going into Christmas rested, relaxed and happy, with at least one good memory already in place. I'm thinking we might try to do something like this every year. It's nice to take time for just our small family.

    What do you do during the holidays to take time for your immediate family? Let me know by emailing me at loraine.lawson at or post your comments below.

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    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    Financial Resolutions

    Family resolutions don't have to be about changing the family. They can be about protecting the family, too. Pick one from this list and do it this year to it:
    • Resolve to write or update your will. Make sure your wishes for your family are outlined. Who will get the children? What about the family pet? How are your finances to be divided.
    • Resolve to get your family finances in order. If you're in debt, make it your goal to get out. If you don't track expenses, make a plan to do so and balance your checkbook monthly. And while you're at it, teach your children about what you're doing so they'll develop this critical life skill.
    • Resolve to create an emergency fund. Experts recommend three months living expenses.
    • Resolve to sign up for life and disability insurance.
    • Resolve to save for a house. Houses are wise investments for families. You can deduct the interest and you're building your worth as your home appreciates - unlike apartments, which basically bleed your money and give you nothing. If a house is out of range, consider saving for a condo.
    • Resolve to save for your children's college education.
    • Resolve to preplan and pre-pay your funeral so your loved ones won't have to.
    Here's a useful article about more specific resolutions focusing on finances.

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    Resolutions for a Better Family

    Resolutions have gotten a bad rap. Many of my friends have abandoned them all together, saying they never keep them anyway. I think that's because they're taking an all-or-nothing approach to resolutions.

    The New Year is the perfect time to reflect upon our lives. It's a natural pause after the holidays and before the daily grind continues to audit what's working and what's not in your life. The problem is, too many people make resolutions without a plan and then expect to wake up magically transformed - or blessed with an abundance of willpower - on New Year's Day. They keep their resolutions for a few days and then if they fail, they give up - certain that change is impossible.

    Instead of viewing your resolution as a succeed/fail proposition, view the resolution as setting your intentions for the year - the whole year. For instance, if you want to lose weight, you could outline a plan for doing so and give it your best. If you hate it, don't abandon the goal - abandon the plan and find a new one. But stay dedicated to finding a way to accomplish your goal.

    It's also helpful if you set quarterly evaluations. My birthday falls in late spring, so I usually naturally renew my resolutions then. And our anniversary is in late summer, so that's another natural time for us to review our goals for the year.

    One of my resolutions for the coming year is to create rituals for my own family. I hope to have some that include extended family and friends - perhaps a game night or something of that order - but mostly I want to focus on our little family of four, (counting Miss Priss the Dog, of course).

    While holiday traditions are important, I think it's even more significant to have random and weekly rituals. We could also be more focused about adding a few reliable, daily routines - reading a story before bedtime as a family, eating dinner together or going for a family walk, for instance.I also want us to become more active as a family. Hmmm....I'm starting to see the beginning of a weekly ritual that unites both goals.

    On a website called Family Education, they recommend you keep a monthly diary of family goals. One way to do this is to use you camcorder and record each family member talking about the resolutions. Check in every month with an update and then review what you said the month before. This would be great for those trying to lose weight, since they could actually see the transformation over the course of the year.

    Or you can check in here each month. To stay focused, I'll be blogging regularly about our family's goals in the coming year.

    More information:

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    Spend Time with Family on 43 Things

    If you're looking for a fun way to track your goals and New Year resolutions, visit 43 Things. Basically, it's a social networking site. You sign up and pick 43 Things you want to try. You can also sound off on things you've already tried or accomplished and give people advice about doing whatever it is you did.

    As of this post, 482 people wanted to spend more time with family. Of those who have achieved this goal, 97 percent say it's worth doing.

    Speaking of spending time with family, have you planned to spend alone time with your family this week? Holidays are supposed to be all about family, but I've found I spend so much time on extended family, I neglect my immediate family. So, I've planned something special for us later this week. More on that later.

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    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Family Dinner

    Each Tuesday, my goal is to commit myself to a family dinner menu plan. I'm not a cook, so don't expect much.

    Tuesday: I defrosted hamburger patties (Laura's sells them premade in a box), so it's hamburgers on a lite bread, (low-carb diet for me), with green beans and salad - vegetables Little One will eat. She always wants french fries, so if we go to the store, I may buy the bakeable crinkles, which are low in fat.

    Wednesday: I've also defrosted chicken thighs - which I've never cooked before. They were cheaper than breasts and since I'm low-carbing it, the fat isn't as important. And as is typical of me, I thought I had a recipe for them - but I don't. So here's my dirty little cooking secret: Google. I type in "chicken thighs," low carb, easy. You've got to put the chicken thighs in quotes or it gives you every kind of chicken. And I've found my recipe: Basil Lemon Chicken. I just need to pick up Basil, maybe a lemon and yogurt.

    There's also Chicken Thighs with Garlic and Lime. I have the ingredients for this recipe, so we'll call that Plan B - or next week's Wednesday dinner.

    I'll make some rice for the family and, once again, it'll be green beans and salad. What can I say? Little One is picky.

    Apparently, I can just bake them, so I may do that.

    Thursday: We usually eat out with friends. But just in case, I'm defrosting a pot roast. Normally, we'd do fish, but I want to make soup over the weekend. I got a hankering. I'll make it in the crock pot with carrots and potatoes. My mother - a genius of economy - uses canned carrots and canned potatoes, and it tastes fantastic.

    Friday: Pot roast - depending on what happened Thursday - or soup and cheese sandwiches.

    Saturday: Nutty Oven Fried Fish. The recipe for this is in "Saving Dinner the Low-Carb Way," a fantastic resource for families. The Saving Dinner books are divided into weeks by season. Each week includes a grocery list, with optional side items, so you can just copy it and go if you're not picky. We may have the soup and sandwiches and save this for next week.

    Sunday: Sunday is Christmas Eve. We'll be doing a lot of running, so I'm going with a crock pot recipe. The Fix It Lightly and Forget It cookbook offers an "Easy and Delicious Turkey Breast" recipe that's turky, cranberry sauce, a dry onion soup mix and OJ. That's for dinner.

    I do need to plan ahead and have a low-carb breakfast casserole for Monday morning.

    Monday: Christmas Day. I'll need to check in with my mother about what to bring. We'll have a huge lunch, so we'll probably have leftovers for dinner or sandwiches. Or maybe we'll do scrambled eggs and pancakes!


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    Families in the Spotlight This Week

    A big shout out to the Humphries Family of Chicago, who made the news this week because all three of whom will be celebrating the same birthday next year. The couple already shared a birthday, but their son came two days early this December to give each parent a special birthday gift. Talk about a great family tradition!

    Special prayers for the family and friends of Paul, Lillian, Shawn, 11, and Kitanna, 10, Martin, a Texas family that died together in a plane crash this week. In general, I think it's pointless to read about random trajedies because there's nothing you can do but feel bad. However, in this case, do read about the Martins. They were an amazing family. They seemed to have put their time here to good, loving use. I should have so many great family memories when I die. The picture is from News 8 Austin.

    If you're following the story of the missing climbers on Mount Hood, you might want to read the official response of their family members and include them in your prayers/meditations/moments of remembrance this week.

    "Try to See Things from Elders' Perspectives This Season," a column published on the Pensacola News Journal's website, reminds us to include seniors in our holiday celebrations. I particularly liked the point he makes about including seniors in holiday preparations, such as trimming the tree and gift shopping. We focus so much on children during Christmas and Hanukkah, that we sometimes forget our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Hubby's grandmother will be spending Christmas in the hospital. We plan to drop by for awhile on Christmas morning, but after reading this, I'm going to encourage him to bring her a small tree now.

    In a similar vein, columnist Linda Rhodes of the Patriot News reminds us to create new traditions with parents who have lost a spouse. Tips Can Help Parents Navigate Holidays is full of great suggestions, but my favorite is to remember deceased family members during the holidays. We want holidays to be perfect, so we force ourselves to avoid anything painful - even if those memories are full of love and are our hearts are aching anyway. She suggests you acknowledge the loss and the love that person brought to your life. A beautiful idea.

    In South Asia, news that Pakistani mosques will encourage family planning made headlines this week. The story notes that Pakistan families are often large because people don't have social security and feel they need a large family to ensure they'll be cared for as they age. The minister quoted in the story points out that two well-educated children can care for aging parents as well as many uneducated children. Touche!

    Ever wonder what Chuck Norris thinks about families, raising children and Christmas break? No, me either. But the man apparently writes a regular column and this week it's on latchkey kids and the dangers of electronic entertainment. I wonder about that stat on latchkey kids. It's kinda frightening. He sources an article on Associated Content, but the article doesn't give a source for the stat and the referenced documents at the end of it don't include the stat. The closest I came was this number from the Oakland Tribute: Approximately one million California kids, 12-17 years old, are unsupervised after school three or more days each week, according to a government poll.

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    Monday, December 18, 2006

    The Merits of Turtles

    When you have tons to do, you're probably tempted to move like the hare: Relentlessly fast, followed by periods of total collapse.

    Meanwhile, the turtle creeps on steadily, surely, slowly.

    Everybody knows the morale: Sure and steady wins the race. I tend to interpret the fable as telling us to be as consistent as a turtle, without the arrogance of the rabbit. But in practice, I try to move at the speed of the rabbit, with the consistency of the turtle.

    But isn't that the real point? The rabbit needs to rest because he's running so much. The turtle can keep going because he goes slowly. That's the lesson I should actually be applying to my life.

    Did you know that turtles do not age? They sometimes even stop their heart from beating - they just don't need it to race around like we do. What kills turtles isn't cells aging, but disease and predators.

    My father likes to say that my mother moves as slow as a turtle, but gets more done than anyone he knows. And it's true. She doesn't rush or hurry, but she's consistent and thorough and she gets tons done every day. She even takes time for an afternoon rest.

    This week, I challenge you to summon your inner turtle, particularly with your family. When your toddler wants to stop to examine the frost on the porch, pause with her. Don't hurry your preschooler just because you've got five stores to visit in two hours - instead, find a way to cut back on the stores you'll visit.

    Slow down. You might just give yourself and your family the peace we spend so much time talking about during Christmas.

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    Sunday, December 17, 2006

    The Family that Prays

    I confess: We're a little awkward around prayer. Neither hubby nor I are quite sure how to do it gracefully and we always feel a bit weird praying at dinner or out loud.

    And though we're Christian, we don't feel Christianity holds a monopoly on God.

    Now that I've confessed that, obviously, prayer is important to many families and I believe praying together binds you to each other and a higher power. Therefore, part of this blog will be to find family prayers to share with you each week.

    This week's prayer is from Bread on the Waters, a Catholic site. The full prayer is available on the Christmas and Advent Prayer page, but the end is a prayer unto itself:
    O God,
    bless our family
    and all its members and friends;
    bind us together by your love.
    Give us kindness and patience
    to support each other;
    and wisdom in all we do.
    Let the gift of your peace
    come into our hearts
    and remain with us.
    May we rejoice in your blessings
    for all our days.

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    Turning Down the Crazy

    The holidays are making me a little bit crazy. There's so much to do without the holidays - add in a Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years, and I get a little insane from stress.

    I have two reactions to stress: First, I run around like a maniac, trying to do 50 things at once, which leads to reaction 2, which is to totally crash and do nothing. I know - it sounds bipolar, but I'm not. I just wear myself out from trying to do too much.

    And that makes for a bad family life.

    Tonight, my husband actually sent me away, calling me Godzilla because I was so grumpy to Little One. Little One was picking at me - of course, she just wanted attention - but I was trying to do some work on the computer, write up a to-do list for tomorrow and...I don't even remember the other things I was juggling. In my mind, I was going over all the stuff I had to do this week and getting more than a little anxious about it.

    Meanwhile, my Little One just wanted to be tickled.

    Shame on me for putting a to-do list ahead of my family. Even if much of the stuff on the list has to do with making a great Christmas "for them," is it worth it if the week leading up to Christmas makes them wish I'd just move out? No, it is not.

    Hence, I've resolved that this week, I'm slowing down. Whenever I feel stressed and start running and juggling too much at once, I'm going to intentionally slow down.

    If you've never tried intentionally slowing down, I highly recommend it. It's harder than it sounds, though. What you do is pick one thing and try to do it very slowly - turtle slow. It forces you to focus and regulate yourself. You actually end up being more efficient and effective because you act your way into being focused, calm and collected.

    I'm also going to trim down that to-do list. I don't have to have a play date this week. I don't need to find candles for the advent wreath - heck, it's a bit late for that anyway! (What can I say - Michael's was out when I went to buy them and I haven't had a chance to find them elsewhere!)

    Another thing I think I'll do this year to make the holidays slower next year: Make notes in next year's calendar to remind me to do more of this stuff in October and November. There are so many things you don't think of until the season is upon you. But that's what calendars are for - they remember so you don't have to.

    This week, resolve to slow down and just accept the week for what it is.


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    Everybody Relax

    We've been running most of the weekend and we're exhausted. There are 1,000 things to do: Christmas shopping, house cleaning, cards to mail, gifts to buy, church activities, friends to call, exercise.

    But sometimes, what your family really needs is time at home to chill. So that's what we're doing this afternoon. Relaxing.

    This is a stressful time of year, even if everything is perfect in your life. And if life has handed you some turmoil, well, it can be downright overwhelming.

    Here's the fix: Be gentle with yourself. Relax. Then, later in the week, buy everybody who's left on your list a gift certificate from the same restaurant.

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    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Weekend Plans

    Weekend plans are always something of a struggle for us. First, I have sleep issues, so I'm often catching up on lost sleep over the weekend. This usually means a long Saturday afternoon nap and not a lot of energy. Second, I have to catch up on errands, particularly during the holiday gift-buying season. Too often, we turn into couch potatoes during the weekend. And that's not what I want at all.

    Right now, I'm being treated for sleep apnea. I'm hoping that will resolve this problem in the long-term. Since I just started, I spent most of the week trying to learn how to sleep with the CPAP. So, I needed a nap this morning.

    If you have sleep problems that interfere with your family weekends, go for a sleep study. You may have a sleep disorder that could be easily treated and give you back your weekends.

    We did get up at 7:30 and trek out to support the hubby on his run. Little One was disappointed, though. She thought the race:
    A. Indoors
    B. Fun for her

    Apparently, it was neither, because she was pretty whiny about the experience. I can't say I blame her. Though I did see some families running together, it seems to me to primarily be a solitary sport. In fact, I'd say it can be down-right anti-family, particularly if the family runner does marathons, which can require you to run 10 miles or so a day. That's a lot of time spent away from your family, particularly when you factor in your work time, grooming time, eating and all the things you must do everyday.

    Fortunately, my hubby sticks with the 3-5 Ks. But I think until Spring, he'll probably be on his own at the runs. We want to support him, but we also very much want to be warm.

    Our plans for the rest of the weekend are pretty dull. We plan to visit some family friends - they have a girl the same age as Little One. We'll all be in the car together for about an hour and a half. One thing we are doing in the car is listening to the Rudolph sound track. My daughter and I now know most of the words and can sing together, which is fun.

    But due to my sleep problems, I'll probably doze off. Little One may also grab a nap, leaving my poor hubby alone while we snore away.

    Then we'll go to church tomorrow, where Little One will sing. Church seems like a family activity, but in reality, we go separate ways at church. Little One goes to Sunday school and child care. My husband and I do stay together, but it's not like we're interacting.

    I do have one family-building activity planned: Tomorrow afternoon, there's a caroling expedition to church members who are home-bound. I think this would be something we can all do together.

    After that, we'll probably do some housework and watch our last TV until Friday night.

    That's the trick about being a family. So many of the things you do together don't actually encourage you to interact or bond. It's more like you're car-pooling.

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    Friday, December 15, 2006

    Family is Who Loves You

    It's true: You can't choose your first family. Fate, God, or whatever puts you into a family's hands and you're at their mercy from then out.

    Sometimes your birth family loves you. Sometimes, they don't.

    It's cruel that we use the same word to describe parents who are loving and caring and do their best to give their children a good life as we do people who burn their babies with cigarettes, abandon their toddlers to "do their own thing," or emotionally neglect a young child.

    I propose we don't. From now on, at least with this blog, your family is who loves you.

    Of course, much of what I'm doing here has to do with the typical family unit: Two parents and children. That's the family I wanted. That's the family I'm building.

    I know I'm lucky. Some people in my life - some people in my family - were born to people who didn't give them the love they deserved. They didn't even give them the love they needed.

    Family is who loves you. I may not be able to tell you how to build yourself a non-traditional family - it's outside my realm of experience - but I believe families are made, through daily intention and effort. Don't be fooled by appearances - even the happy families that your friends were just "born" into - they were intentionally created by someone.

    I hope much of what we talk about here can be applied to any family, even if that means your two best friends and your dog. Creating a family does take work - but it shouldn't be so hard that it's painful, it shouldn't be hurtful or crazy.

    Celebrate those people who behave as family, whether their related to you or not. Sometimes that's a grandmother who loves you and raises you as if she is your mother. Sometimes it's your best friend's family, who knows how to love unconditionally and sees a need in you. Sometimes, it's your adopted daughter from Russia. Sometimes, it's a group of friends you meet through AA.

    If you must be around a "birth family" who doesn't love you, don't confuse them with "family." Remember: Family is who loves you. Everyone else is just a bad coincidence.

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    Happy Hanukkah

    Happy Hanukkah!

    By now, most people are familiar with the story about the temple oil that last for eight days as the reason behind Hanukkah. But did you know that Hanukkah is also about the courage of one family - the Maccabees - to resist an attempt to wipe out Jewish culture? The Maccabees resisted a Antiochus the Fourth, a Greek ruler who ordered Judeans to take Greek names, study only Greek material and - you guessed it - worship only Greek gods.

    The father started the rebellion and his sons took up the battle until they'd restored the Temple and Jewish life.

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    Why the Rename?

    I've decided to change the title of this blog to Time for Family, because that's what the url says. I'm not particularly fond of either name - it sounds like some politically-motivated campaign or maybe a craft site. I don't want it to be either.

    My reason for launching this site is to provide a space for exploring how to build a healthy, strong family. Not a perfect family. Not a 1950s advertising family. Not a sit-com family. A real, thinking, growing family with deep abiding love.

    I don't think we're born knowing how to do that - we're just born with a deep desire to have a family.

    Plus, I found a website called Family Time. It's a practical, magazine-style site, with some interesting tools, including a family calendar, a recipe box and a shopping list that interacts with the recipe box.

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    Our Family Circle: Thursday Nights with Friends

    Remember when everyone held Survivor parties to watch the TV show? My closest friends still do that. They're absolutely nuts over the show. For years now, they've met for dinner and Survivor viewing. We joined them a few years ago, but this year, our child has refused to sleep at their house. I think she gets too excited about being in the same room/house as her best friends, who are in many ways, like siblings or cousins for her.

    This year, someone proposed eating out before Survivor. That allowed us to participate without staying - and for us, the draw was always the fellowship of friends. But with six children and 10 adults, we easily took over any restaurant we visited. So, one couple decided to just have us over for simple meals, like Tacos (who doesn't like Tacos!) or lasagna. We all bring something to the table. For taco night, we brought lettuce. Another friend brought rice. The host is still contributing most of the food, but we'll wear her down eventually and it'll become more equitable.

    Our children span 12 years, but they enjoy hanging out, laughing, fighting, tattling on one another. We enjoy a slow dinner together, with lots of talking and laughing.

    Many of us have been friends since college. Since then, we've expanded our circle to include spouses, siblings, and now children. They're not just my friends. They're my family's friends.

    I'm so grateful for them. But I know it can be very difficult to find families that really click with your family, who share your values, your sense of humor and gracefully ignore most of your quirks.

    I'd be interested in hearing how other families have created family friendships.
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    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Family Gift Idea

    • Send a ball through the mail, personalized with the family's name.
    • Photo blocks - whether it's the family pet or a favorite portrait. (Thanks to ParentHacks for this one.)
    • Gift certificate to play miniature golf
    • Holiday-themed (any holiday) plate sets. These can be upscale setsor cheap sets you find at the Dollar Store. For $25, my mom bought my family a complete set of plates, cups, saucers and bowls that look fantastic after 5 years!
    • Museum, park, botantical gardens, acquarium or zoo tickets or membership
    • Amusement park tickets or membership
    • Gift basket full of your favorite ice cream toppings
    • A DVD of a family films that's appropriate for all ages - Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Christmas Story, or my favorite, Harvey
    • A photo album, preferably with some photos of their family and yours. Or, you could give a certificate to a portrait studio.
    • Long distance calling cards for family who lives away
    • Games. Check out GamerDad's Holiday Guide to find age-appropriate family video and board games.

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    Rejected for Volunteering

    Looks like I'm on the hunt for a new organization. Dare-to-Care doesn't let anyone under 8 volunteer for them due to liability issues - even, ironically, at their Kid's Cafe. They did say we could donate craft supplies.

    We did send a card and coloring page to a child through Make A Child Smile. Since the child, a 3-year-old boy named Logan, likes Care Bears, we printed out a coloring page and Little One colored it for him. Then, I ordered a Send-A-Ball for him that reads, "Smile, Logan and Owen." Owen's his twin, who also has a lot of health problems.

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    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Book Review: The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering

    You may have noticed I've devoted a lot of time to volunteering lately. That's because Christmas is about giving, and I'd like to extend that giving attitude throughout the year. It's a value that's important to my family, along with empathy, empowerment and other lessons you can learn by volunteering.

    I'm reading several books on the subject, but by far my favorite is The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering, written by Jenny Friedman.

    Friedman should know about family volunteering. She and her family have been doing it for more than 15 years. She's also the founder of Doing Good Together, an organization dedicated to inspring and helping families volunteer.

    She's built a very convincing case for why volunteering matters and why it should be a family activity.

    If you believe you don't have time, Friedman points out that volunteering offers a wide-range of options. You could simply dedicate one day a year - or even one half-hour a year, if you wanted. She also argues that once you try it, it'll quickly move from another thing "you have to do" to an experience you anticipate because it reaps so many benefits. Here's what she says your family will get from the experience:

    • Opportunities to teach values.
    • Feeling part of your community.
    • Improving your children's self esteem, because they see that they can contribute and help.
    • Strengthened family bonds.
    • Opportunities for your children to see the impact of serious things you'd normally only preach about - such as not smoking, unprotected sex, and appreciating what you have.
    • Teach children about the environment, medical field, and other potential career areas in a hands-on setting.

    She also anticipates the hesitations parents will have about volunteering and addresses them, including "My children aren't interested" and "My children are too young."

    The rest of the book looks at how to pick a cause, how to prepare your children, and chapters devoted to specific causes, such as building community, healing the environment, fighting poverty, social action and volunteer vacations.

    But what I found most helpful is the Appendix, which offers ideas for family projects, quick projects your family can do in an hour, an afternoon or a day without any preparation, and a developmental timetable that gives you age-appropriate ideas.

    There's even a section on volunteering based on holidays, a great approach that will provide multiple volunteering activites without over-committing your family.

    All of which make this book a great resource for years to come. It's definitely Family Bookshelf material. However, if you're not a book person, do explore her organization's website, Doing Good Together, which offers much of the same information, but for free!

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