Category: Holidays-Seasons

How To Be a Great Stepfather – Nine Tips

This article was written in 2011 but it covers a topic that many must grapple with, how to be a great stepparent.

I appreciated Kash’s insight and how wonderful he has been to his stepkids. His thoughts come from his real-life experience. Eleven years have passed, he is still doing a great job and they love him. His story is worth the read. You will also find nine tips from another stepparent, Dr. Phil. : )

“My kids are great! They are energetic, imaginative, loving, and occasionally ornery. I have three girls and one boy, whose ages range from three to eleven, and they have been my kids for exactly four months.

Being a “step-dad” is not something I expected a year ago, but it was not an idea that scared me either. I have five siblings that have 13 kids between them, and I have always enjoyed spending time with their children. Now that I have four kids to call my own, I have a different perspective on the relationships that I have with my nieces and nephews. The responsibility one has as a parent is enormous. An uncle can feed his nephews a bunch of sugar and then send them back to their parents; a stepfather does not have that luxury.

The important thing for a stepparent to remember is that you are an adult, and the kids are…kids. They have lost a parent, whether through a divorce or otherwise. Someone who has been there consistently for most of their lives is now only there occasionally. It is not your job to replace that parent. It is, however, your job to be a new parent, one that is patient, loving, and willing to teach the same qualities to your new kids.

Like all parents, a stepparent’s patience is tested on a daily basis. My philosophy, when faced with a new problem, is “Yield to the expert”. My wife knows her children better than anyone. So, I ask her opinion on almost everything. She is very patient and very willing to teach me how to be a good dad. I am very blessed to have the family that I do and love them very much.”

I did some research and Kash was on top of it and has been a great stepfather.

Nine tips on being a great stepfather

1. Don’t Plan to be the disciplinarian. There are boundaries to your authority. Be reasonable, and as much as possible show them that what you have to say is sensible. The stepparent, although not actively initiating direct discipline, should certainly work to maintain the normal boundaries that exist between an adult and a child. Support the decisions that are made by your wife. A stepfather is not simply one’s mother’s husband. He is in fact, an adult and an authority figure in the home.

2. Don’t ask them to call you “Dad”. Don’t be selfish and demand it.

3. Don’t ever bad mouth their dad, no matter what kind of person he is. Usually, they’ll side with dad, but even if they don’t, you have no right to interfere in that relationship.

4. Act responsibly, be there for the kids when they need you, share their joys and sorrows with them, build them up as much as you can, help them with their homework, offer advice, explain how things work, organize their day, and so on — all the things you’d do if you were their actual father, remembering that relationships take time to build.

5. Listen to the children.

6. Take cues from mom. Deal with major disagreements out of earshot of the kids; in everything else, follow mom’s lead.

7. Don’t try to win them over with gifts, trips to the amusement park, or whatever.

8. Share. Be open about your life, career, likes, dislikes, and interests — and make an effort to learn about theirs. Take part in their activities and involve them in yours. Not only will you find some common ground to connect on, but you’ll be able to take part in their development as people, which is what this is all about.

9. Forgive. Forgive them for being difficult, forgive mom for not always lending you a hand when you’re lost, forgive their friends for not understanding your new place in your kids’ home, and most of all, forgive yourself. You are going to make a lot of mistakes

“The key is to remember that the children are passengers on this train. They didn’t get an opportunity to choose whether they wanted a new family member, so great care and patience should be taken to help them adapt to the situation.” Dr. Phil

When we love first we can overcome many obstacles, even when stepparenting!

Kash is a native of Colorado and currently lives in Grand Junction with his wife, Marie. He has four stepchildren and he and Marie have had two children together. Kash grew up in a family of 6 children. He is the fourth child just like his wife, Marie. He was raised by his mother with the help of his grandfather and two of his grandmothers. Kash loves to read all kinds of books.

A Mother’s Day Replay!

On Mother’s Day in 2012 my daughters hijacked my blog and gave me a HUGE Mother’s Day surprise. I was reviewing that old blog recently and reread their messages to me. I was again moved to tears at their kind words and generosity of spirit. I never was a perfect person, let alone a perfect parent. But my daughter’s words reminded me of what I weekly work to remind you – our kids aren’t looking for perfect. They want us, with all our flaws and all our love. When we stay the course, do the best we can, and keep learning, IT WILL BE ENOUGH!

Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

A decade has passed, and they have grown so much. Their lives have been challenging and beautiful. I put current pictures in the article, so you could see them as they are now. : )

May 13, 2012

We’ve hijacked our mother’s blog for a surprise Mother’s Day Tribute. We wanted to share with all of you, her dear readers, and friends, how honored we are to be her daughters and what she means to us. We are grateful for your joining us to celebrate our mother and yours.

Kate Houston
I remember one of my favorite things when I was living at home was sitting in our “library” with you talking about our love for books. You taught me to hunger for knowledge.

When I was young you showed me how to make a meal out of almost nothing, how to grow a beautiful garden, and how to REALLY clean. You taught me how to be a homemaker.

The summer I wanted to study abroad in Europe, and we had no money, you spent the whole summer baking cakes and selling water bottles with me. You taught me how to work for what I want and be creative doing it.

When I wanted to be a varsity cheerleader my senior year of high school, even though I had NEVER cheered before, you were right there on the day of tryouts to make sure I stuck it out until the end. You taught me how to dream and dream big.

Growing up you loved to teach us how to make sugar eggs, gingerbread houses, and frosting flowers for cakes. You taught me the importance of cultivating my talents.

When you were in your 40s, you had seven children and an incredibly busy life, and yet you finished your master’s degree. You taught me the value of education.

When times were tough and family life was especially hard, I’d walk past your open bedroom door and ALWAYS see you on your knees. You taught me how to have a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Mom, it’s easy for us to look back on our time as a mother and wonder if anything we did gave our children what they needed to be successful in their life. Sometimes we look back and feel discouraged because as far as we can see, what we did wasn’t enough. But it’s the little things, the daily things you taught me that made all the difference. Because you were the person that you were, I am the person that I am today. Through your service to others, you taught me how to serve. Through your example of forgiving and being patient, you taught me how to forgive and be patient. Because you grew and blossomed, like the flowers out back in our garden, you taught me how to grow and blossom.

Now I’m getting ready to take my first steps into motherhood and because of you, I am not afraid. You have already walked the paths down this unfamiliar road and through the wisdom you have gained, you will teach me what it truly means to be a mother. Thank you, mom.

Marie Henry
There are so many things that I have learned from you but there are two things in particular that have forever changed me and how things have gone in my life. The first one was prayer. I remember always walking in on you praying. I knew Heavenly Father was your friend and that you trusted him.

When I decided to come back to the church, I knew what to do. I knew I could talk to Him about everything. That it was okay if I was angry, even at Him, as long as I talked to him about it. That even if I sat there and said nothing at least I was in the right place. I knew I had to build up trusting Him but I trusted you, so I knew I would get there and that it would be okay. The second thing was to never ever give up, that change is possible and that it is very real. That you need not give up hope. There is a way to return to happiness, and it is through Jesus Christ.

The past 13 years have been quite the journey for me and my family. There were times I didn’t think things would ever turn around or feel differently, but then I would pray and get through the day. I knew from watching you that no matter what you don’t ever, ever give up. You continue to fight even if the answer takes years to come.

Now, look where I am at. I finally love being a mother. I feel content and peaceful with myself and how things are going in my life, and I have the greatest man as my husband. There are many things I get to pass on to my children but the two things I continue to tell them about are to always pray, no matter how you feel, and to never ever give up, that Heavenly Father is there for us and no matter what you fight to stay on his side.

I know that one day you were praying, in the kitchen, I believe, and you said to Heavenly Father that we would have all been better off if he had just sent us to someone else. He said to you, that may be true, but he sent us to you. Well, I am proud that he did. I am very grateful to have you as my mother.

Our lives here on earth are meant to have trials in them. I left your home knowing how to make it through and come out the other side being a better me and closer to the Lord. Having fewer trials really doesn’t matter. That I know how to make it back home to Heavenly Father is what I came here to learn and learn it I did. I am grateful for the family I have and PROUD I get to say you are my mother. I love you.

Jenny Johnson
I really love my mother. And it is one of those interesting loves; the bigger the love gets, the bigger my heart gets, and the more it makes me love the entire world. Amazing!

I remember being a child and mom would take all her 7 children with her to the nursing home on Sundays just to visit the patients who weren’t getting usual visitors. It was the family’s volunteer work.

That is how I now kind of define my life. I prioritize (highly) having volunteer work in my life that serves the geriatric population. Also, I just finished the endeavor of earning my master’s degree. I will now start working as a professional in the skilled nursing home to serve the geriatric population with different modes of therapy. I feel so happy and grateful because I know that working in this environment and serving this population is really going to feed my life, daily! She has taught me that despite possibly never bearing children, there is a viable way for me to mother this world! I serve…and it makes me happy. It is how I run my life. This is the legacy my mother has left in my life. An ocean of thanks to you, my sweet mother.

A handful of years ago, when I was in a severe car accident and wasn’t walking, my mother flew to California and took care of me for 4 months. I mean REALLY was taking care of me, as if her 30-year-old daughter was 3 again. Feeding me, cleaning me, helping me move from point A to point B, etc. That was such a wonderful blessing given to each of our lives because what came out of that intimate tragedy was that my mother became one of my dearest friends. I feel so supported, loved, and valued and that, again, strengthens and augments my desire to serve and support this entire world, and it makes me love this world even more. A canyon of thanks to you, my sweet mother and friend.

What my wonderful, beautiful, vibrant mother is teaching me now about being a woman is that personal evolution never stops, and it is never too late to become 10 times more than you have ever been. Beauty, wisdom, self-love, personal manifestation, grand service – these are things I am learning from her and really beginning to value because she is performing these things and becoming these things and mastering these things and it is all so amazing to watch! She is painting such a colorful masterpiece across the canvas of her life. She is leaving such a mark, and I feel so honored and blessed to be a part of it. I love you mom, to the moon and back! A universe of thanks to you for everything.

Jodie Palmer
I turned 40 years old a few weeks ago. It’s sort of a surreal experience for me because it’s the only age that I distinctly remember my mother being. She gave birth to her last child at 40, and so have I. I am now where my mother once was, a place I remember her being.

A fascinating thing has happened now that I’m standing in the shoes, I remember my mother wearing. She has suddenly transformed into something more than my mother. I’m connecting with her as a woman.

It’s been hard to try to put this transformation into words or describe what it means to finally see my mother as a woman. I hate to admit it, but my mother has never been a “real” woman to me. She’s been . . . my Mother. Something different than, “a woman.”

Throughout my life, I’ve been walking these antipodal paths of both discovering who I am as a woman, and consciously putting myself together into who I want to be. But the change that has happened for me is that I am beginning to see my mother in the context of who I am as a woman—this complicated mixture of contradictions and messiness, grace and beauty, vices and flaws, backbone and tenacity, soft and tender places, guarded and hidden places, confusion and wisdom, fullness and emptiness and so much more all wrapped up in one heart.

I find myself feeling so tender towards her, not in a reminiscent way, as is usual for Mother’s Day, but in this current, primal, female, connected, Red Tent sort of way.

As I was attempting to write this tribute to her, I came up with my usual celebrations of memories, the ones that have informed my whole worldview and way of being with the world. Like the time she packed us all into the car to return something that had recently been purchased because we needed the money. On the way out of the parking lot, there was a man holding a sign asking for help. She rolled down the window and gave the man part of the change we had just received. She shared and gave, even when it hurt.

Or the time when she washed the body of a woman who had died and had no one in her life to give her that one last loving honor. She is a rememberer of the forgotten.

There are so many other memories that have served as the elements taken up as food by the beautiful garden of my life.

But, today I want to honor my mother differently than I have ever been able to before. I want to honor her as a woman. I want to honor her complicated, contradictory, messy, deeply beautiful, wise, lovely self. All of it is beautiful to me, and so needed by me, as a woman. All of her is so needed by the world. And the world is better for it—the little worlds of her children and grandchildren, the little worlds of her client families, the little worlds of her neighbors, and the strangers that cross her path. All these little worlds collide together in one big bang of goodness and beauty for all the rest of us.

That’s the beauty of women, we are wombs and birthers of beauty and goodness in the world through the complicated mixture of who we are. We are good for the world . . . And the Lord God looked and said, “It is good.”

I am honored to be a woman born and grown from this woman. I am honored to have her blood and her bone, her spirit, and her heart living in me.

I am grateful for these new eyes that have allowed me to not only see her differently but see my daughters differently. I newly see, and feel, that we are sisters, we are friends.

Again, Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

Christmas Past – A Gift of Charity

I wrote this true short story many decades ago for my parents, for Christmas. I was working on letting them know how much I appreciated all they had given me despite the lacks in my family of origin. Isn’t that how it is in most families. Our parents can only bring to their parenting what they have and they add to their skills as they go. Being the first child, I experienced some of those lacks but as I grew, I also saw my parents grow. Anyway, I wanted them to know how grateful I was.

I posted it on my old website way back in 2011. I can’t believe that ten years have gone by! I wouldn’t have thought to repost it this year except for an unusual happening.  I was asked to submit a Christmas story for an anthology, which I did. I submitted this story.

I have to say that it doesn’t match most of the stories in  Tis the Season: A Christmas Survival Guide. The stories are not the magical kind we usually read about but are filled with tales of the chaos and sometimes hurt that accompanies the holiday for many. I don’t know why my story was chosen as it is peaceful and loving. It is also the final story in the book. I suppose it was becuase I ended it with ‘Merry Christmas.’ : )

At any rate, it caused me to think again about this family happening and my parents who were doing their very best for me and my siblings. I thought it might bring some treasured Christmas memories to your mind at this season of family and Christ. I hope you enjoy the read, the heart, and the generosity of both parent and child.

Christmas Past – A Gift of Charity

A true short story, written by Mary Ann Johnson years ago when her children were young, and she was remembering.

black and white photo of little girl smiling
Mary Ann, almost five, see the buttons!

THE HEATER MADE a steady hum as it singed the small bits of pine I had placed on top. I’d never seen a heater like it until we moved into the new house. It was brown, shiny, and huge. It wasn’t as homey as Grandma’s Ben Franklin, but it was warm and didn’t create clinkers, for which I was grateful. The pine was Mother’s idea. She liked the smell the needles gave off as they slowly turned brown.

I was five years old, and Idaho Falls was cold and windy. Inside, it was warm and cozy. There were six of us, and the house was small. I saw it years later and small was a generous word for it. At the time, it seemed perfect.

Christmas was coming, and as always during that season, the sewing machine was humming away. Pieces of black velvet and red taffeta littered the floor. I noticed the buttons first, the most beautiful buttons in the world, shiny white with rhinestone centers. Those buttons were a treasure sewn on a cardboard square. I would have paid at least a quarter for them, a vast sum hidden away in my bank.

But the buttons weren’t for sale. They were going onto elegant dresses that my sisters and I watched take shape until I could hold back my curiosity no longer.

woman smiling picture
NaVon, our mom, a mere 23 years old.

“Mom, are the dresses for us? Can we wear them?”

“No,” she replied.

Who else would they be for?

With patience, mom explained that there was a family who needed help making Christmas special. We had so much, she said. She ticked our blessings off on her fingers. I remember the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had never had a beautiful dress like that, never a dress with buttons that shone like stars.

As the days passed, the emptiness in my stomach was being filled, for as my mother sewed, she poured into me a feeling of gratitude for blessings received and a spirit of giving. She made me a co-conspirator. I cared for the baby, played quietly, and picked up those lovely scraps so she could continue to sew.

Soon the dresses were finished and gone. The gifts of love had been delivered. Then my mother began pouring charity into the empty place that the actual departure of the dresses left.

“Now girls, when we go to church, you’ll see those dresses on three other little girls. Don’t say a word. We want them to feel happy and proud. This is our special Christmas secret. Remember that it’s important for people to have dignity and be happy.”

We three, Cindy, Shirley, and I, turned our young faces to her and beamed. We trusted the words of our mother. We knew we could keep the secret. I had a feeling of joy in my stomach. Emptiness no longer lingered there.

Christmas night was torture. Every child has felt the pangs of anxiety: will the doll be there, the train, the blocks? Every child has felt the excitement. How can I wait? How can I sleep? Sleep stayed away for a long time.

It was still dark when we raced to Mom and Dad’s room. They arose slowly—too slowly! — finding slippers and waking the baby. Then there was the interminable wait as Dad lit the tree and turned up the heat. Finally, we were free to run pell-mell into an ecstasy that would last all day.

three sisters smiling picture
Shirley Kay, Cindy Lu, Mary Ann

What? I stopped short. There they were among the gifts: those buttons attached to black velvet and red taffeta dresses. What a surprise and joy.

As I sailed into church later that day, I was wearing a prized gift, but the most precious Christmas gift I received that season was carried in my heart: gratitude for what I had, the love of sharing, and charity for others. This gift, given to me by my mother so many Christmases ago, has made all the difference in the quality of my life. Thanks, Mom!

Also, a thank you to my dad, who is now gone. He made wonderful toys with his own hands. We had them for many, many years, and they delighted all nine of us children.

baby cribs picture                  cupboard pictures                 toy horse picture

Merry Christmas!

That’s how dad/mom did it, and that’s how I do it!

This season I have been thinking back to Christmases past and the traditions that my parents passed on to me. My parents were masters at making the holiday fantastic and I am in awe of their ability to make something special out of so little.

When I was eight, there were four of us kids and five more to come. But I recall Christmas as being an abundant time. I suspect that for most of those years, the gifts weren’t big or elaborate. I recall very few gifts that I received over the years. Those that were memorable were because they came with sacrifice, but that telling is for another day. The things I remember well were the traditions. From my first Christmas until the last one I spent at home, there were some things you could depend on no matter how tight the budget.

Oranges!

There was always a case of oranges. Fruit was scarce in my home. It was pricy and other than apples we didn’t have a lot. So, a case of oranges was like a case of gold and is one reason I eat oranges in the strange way that I do. My husband always teases me about it. You peel the orange. Then you chew all the white coating off the peel. Then you eat the sections one at a time by nibbling them. Even a case of oranges doesn’t add up to many for each person when you have a big family.

Nuts!

There were always nuts, huge bowls of nuts. Nuts were inexpensive back in the day. There would be a bowl of walnuts and another bowl of mixed nuts. I recall my frustration in trying to crack them. The walnuts were the easiest to manage, but they weren’t my favorite. I LOVED the brazil nuts, and they were the hardest to crack. I got better at it as I aged. I still love brazil nuts.

Pomegranates!

These were harder to come by, but I think most years, my parents managed it. There might be one in your sock. But some years, there would be a bowl full. We learned to love them in our short stint in Red Bluff, CA. Our neighbor had a tree, and it hung over our fence. She would let us pick a few. We loved her and her pomegranates. I was in my sixties before I learned how to peel them, so it wasn’t such a pain. But pain or not, I loved pomegranates.

You could find these same items on my counter every Christmas for the last fifty Christmases. Traditions matter. The good ones and the bad, and every family has both. We need to pay attention to what we are passing down to our kids because, like it or not, they will most likely pass it down to theirs.

I am reading and implementing the book A Complaint Free World: The 21 Day challenge that will change your life. In it, Will Bowen said, “I can remember my dad in the kitchen. Whenever he cooked, he took a dishtowel and draped it over his left shoulder; he called it his ‘left shoulder cooking towel’… Today whenever I am in the kitchen, you will always find me with my own ‘left shoulder cooking towel.’ And it’s never on the right shoulder, always the left. That’s how dad did it, and that’s how I do it. Perhaps my dad had seen his father do this and was following after him – who knows?

All I know is that I picked it up from him. He never sought to instill this idiosyncrasy in me, but his behavior did so. And I know that, whether I intend to or not, I’m passing along things to all the time.”

How we ‘are’ and how we ‘respond’ can become traditions and habits for our children. We want to pass on what will be remembered with fondness, and that will improve our children’s lives. The beginning of a new year is a good time to check in on our ‘way of being’ and determine if there is ONE thing we may want to change before it becomes a tradition or a habit for our kids. Remember only work on ONE thing at a time.

You can find four steps to making permanent changes in your way of being HERE.

Share your family traditions. We would all love to hear them. Then share this article with those you love and care about. : )

Christmas Dresses – A True Story

A true short story, written by Mary Ann Johnson years ago when her children were young and she was remembering

Christmases past.

NaVon, my mother, just 23 years old.

The heater made a steady hum as it singed the small bits of pine I had placed on top. I’d never seen one like it until we moved into the new house. It was brown, shiny, and huge. It wasn’t as homey as Grandma’s Ben Franklin, but it was warm and didn’t create clinkers, for which I was grateful. The pine was mother’s idea. She liked the smell the needles gave off as they slowly turned brown.

Mary Ann Johnson, age five. Pay attention to the buttons!

I was five years old and Idaho Falls was cold and windy. Inside it was warm and cozy. There were six of us and the house was small. I saw it years later and small was a generous word for it. At the time it seemed perfect.

Christmas was coming and as it always did during that season, the sewing machine was humming away. Pieces of black velvet and red taffeta littered the floor. I noticed the buttons first; the most beautiful buttons in the world, shiny white with rhinestone centers. Those buttons were a treasure sewn on a cardboard square. I would have paid at least a quarter for them, a vast sum hidden away in my bank.

But the buttons weren’t for sale. They were going onto elegant dresses that my sisters and I watched take shape until I could hold back my curiosity no longer. “Mom, are the dresses for us? Can we wear them?” “No”, she replied. Who else would they be for?

Our father-made cupboard.

With patience, she explained that there was a family who needed help making Christmas special. We had so much she said. She ticked our blessings off on her fingers. I remember the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had never had a beautiful dress like that, never a dress with buttons that shone like stars.

As the days passed, the emptiness in my stomach was being filled, for as my mother sewed, she poured into me a feeling of gratitude for blessings received and a spirit of giving. She made me a co-conspirator. I cared for the baby, played quietly and picked up those lovely scraps so she could continue to sew.

Soon the dresses were finished and gone. The gifts of love had been delivered. Then my mother began pouring charity into the empty place that the actual departure of the dresses left. “Now girls, when we go to church, you’ll see those dresses on three other little girls. Don’t say a word. We want them to feel happy and proud. This is our special Christmas secret. Remember that it’s important for people to have dignity and be happy.”

We three, Cindy, Shirley and I turned our young faces to her and beamed. We trusted the words of our mother. We knew we could keep the secret. I had a feeling of joy in my stomach. Emptiness no longer lingered there.

Our father-made rocking horse.

Christmas night was torture. Every child has felt the pangs of anxiety; will the doll be there, the train, the blocks? Every child has felt the excitement; how can I wait; how can I sleep? Sleep stayed away for a long time.

It was still dark when we raced to mom and dad’s room. They arose slowly – too slowly! finding slippers and waking the baby. Then there was the interminable wait as dad lit the tree and turned up the heat. Finally, we were free to run pell-mell into an ecstasy that would last all day.

What a wonderful Christmas!

 

What? I stopped short. There they were those buttons attached to a black velvet and red taffeta dress. What a surprise and joy.

As I sailed into church later that day, I was wearing a prized gift but the most precious Christmas gift I received that season was carried in my heart; gratitude for what I had, the love of sharing and charity for others. This gift, given to me by my mother so many Christmases ago has made all the difference in the quality of my life. Thanks, mom!!

Also, a thank you to my dad who is now gone. He made wonderful toys with his own two hands. We had them for many, many, years and they delighted all nine of us children.

Merry Christmas.

A Gift for You – The Week Before Christmas Packet

Christmas is just around the corner.

It’s a joyous holiday celebrated around the world by both Christians and non-Christians. It’s a time to celebrate family, friendships and for Christians, Christ. It’s filled with parties, gift-giving, food, and fun. BUT it can be exhausting!

If you’re like me, you’ve had Christmases that when all was said and done, felt disappointing. Oh, the gifts were good, and you got everything on your to-do list done but something was missing. After a few decades of thinking about that after-Christmas feeling, I know what it is for me. I didn’t spend enough downtime with my family, I failed to connect heart to heart and laugh to laugh. I was just too busy.

When I pinned this down for myself, I thought, “I bet I’m not the only person out there who feels this way.” So, I compiled a packet of simple, inexpensive and family-centered activities to help myself and others spend some quality time together at Christmas. I combed the Internet and gathered information and links so you wouldn’t have to. You can print the PDF HERE.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to spend five, six or even seven quiet evenings with just you and your family celebrating this remarkably joyous season? I’m with you, it would. We can make that happen by cleaning out our calendar and making a commitment to do it.

When I first put this together I tried it out. I had a few of my grands over and we did two of the activities. We made donut snowmen and donut reindeer. We learned that frosting and candies do not stick on powdered donuts very easily! We learned that if you don’t keep an eye on them, the noses will disappear from the snowmen’s faces. (Jack was that you?)

We learned that working on the floor is perfect, as the mess is right where you can sit in it easily! We learned that cutting pretzels for antlers is not as easy as it looks and if you don’t do it right you have ears. Reindeer look very funny with ear-shaped antlers. We learned that we love working together and that the whole project only took about 20 minutes. Then we ate!

Here’s to spending time as a family, calming the craziness, celebrating together and gearing up for a fabulous 2020. You can print the PDF HERE.

With holiday wishes for joy,
Mary Ann Johnson

Why not share this with someone

you care about. : ) 

Help Kids Give Christmas from the Heart

Kids LOVE making Christmas gifts. Helping them can seem overwhelming during this very busy season. However, with a bit of thought and time, you can help your children give gifts from the heart.

When I had two children left at home, ages five and eleven, we decided to make Christmas gifts. We had set some guidelines:

 

  • They had to be usable and worth giving
  • They couldn’t cost a lot of money
  • The child had to be able to make it with minimal help

This was before every home had a computer! What I had instead was a butter-colored, six drawer file cabinet which was filled with things I had collected over a lifetime of teaching children. We searched through files marked Christmas, gifts, sewing, patterns, and so forth until we found the perfect items.

My son, who was eleven, chose to make footstools for his grandparents and dad. I took him to the lumber yard, and he asked scraps and they gave them to him. I took him to the local upholstery shop, and he asked for scraps which they gave to him. In other words, I let my children choose the gifts, helped them gather the supplies for the gifts and then assisted when they needed me in making the gifts. But these gifts really did come from them.

The following ideas are simple, inexpensive and your children will need minimal help. But the satisfaction of giving a gift from the heart will be priceless.

Gifts Kids Can Make for Christmas

1. Make a book for a toddler. Get a small photo album and have your older child print pictures from the Internet or they can draw simple objects. Glue the picture to a piece of heavy paper or poster board which has been cut to fit. Label the item, write a short sentence or paragraph for a story.
2. Write a story for a parent or grandparent. Buy a small notebook with unlined paper or put some plain paper into a folder. Have your child write a story and then illustrate it. If your child is new to writing, you can write their story for them on the pages they have illustrated. Part of the fun with younger children is helping them come up with a story while you write. This can make for wonderfully funny and warm moments together. My Kate, when she was small, wrote two stories that I still have. One was called The Golden Tear and was a fantasy. The other was called “Glass Is Not Cement” a hilarious story of a real experience that she had. (She used an aquarium for a step stool!)
3. Another great gift idea that an older child can make is a Quiet Book. We have made these, and they are just plain fun. This also works well as a project for a whole family. Each member of the family makes one page for the book. Here is a wonderful site that has some darling free templates.
4. Bookmarks. Over the years we have made many, many bookmarks. If you google bookmarks for kids to make and hit images, you will find more ideas than you can shake a stick at! Here is one easy idea.
5. Decorated Wooden Spoon. Here is a gift that I saw on TJEDMUSE, suggested by Debbie. I thought it was a wonderful idea. When I was young, about 11 or 12, I got a wood-burning kit for Christmas and I loved it. Choose a wooden kitchen implement such as a spoon or rolling pin. Use the wood burner to inscribe an inspirational word or picture. If you choose something like a spoon you can turn it into a great wall decoration by adding ribbon and silk flowers to the handle and then hot gluing a hanger on the back of the handle.

6. One year we made corn/rice warmers for our friends. I still have mine. I store it under the head of my bed for cold nights. I just pop it into the microwave for a minute and voila warmth. Because I had children making these, they were very simple. We cut squares from flannel about 9X9. We sewed up three and ½ sides filled them with feed corn which I bought. Rice works just as well. Then we hand sewed the opening shut. I was able to teach my kids how to use the sewing machine and how to sew with a needle and thread. Just a note – When I was teaching my 5-year-old to use the sewing machine I stood behind her and ran the pedal with my foot. I helped her push the material through the feed dog and keep it straight. It worked well and as far as she was concerned, she had done the sewing!


7. Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies. I know, I know, everyone gets cookied to death at Christmas. However, my children loved making them. This is a whole afternoon project or two short afternoons. Kids make the cookie dough, roll it out, bake the cookies and then decorate them. The recipe that I am giving you is very old and uses far more flour than sugar, so they are perfect for frosting. When kids are frosting cookies, it is a messy business and never looks beautiful the way you would do it. But please, don’t help them too much or fix their cookies. What we like to do is let the cookies sit for a couple of hours uncovered so the frosting crusts up a bit. Then we put them in freezer bags and write “A Christmas Gift for New Year’s Eve – please freeze” on the bag. Add a bow and maybe a couple of hot chocolate packets. What a great gift!

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies
2 c sugar 7 c flour
1 c shortening ½ tsp salt
2 eggs 1 tsp soda
1 tsp vanilla ½ c evaporated milk (plain milk works but canned makes the flavor so yummy!)

Cream the sugar and shortening. Add eggs, vanilla, salt, and soda. Mix well. Add flour and milk alternately. I always end up mixing with my hands. It works so much better! The dough must be just stiff enough to roll out and handle nicely. Flour your table before you roll it out. It also helps to dip your cutter into the flour before cutting the dough. Bake at 375 degrees for about 8-10 minutes. The longer baked, the crisper, the shorter baked, softer.

Merry Christmas and

happy gift making. : )

By the way, if you love candy, frosting and graham crackers why not tackle a village of small gingerbread houses. It is a fabulous family activity? It’s fun and the way I help kids do it, it’s as easy as pie!! Sounds too hard? Try making a passel of old fashioned gingerbread men. They are delicious and simple.

Why not share this with someone

you care about. : ) 

Rolling Stones, the Fourth of July, and Family Traditions

Happy Fourth of July from Laurel, Montana

I grew up with a rolling stone, my dad. He liked to move and was forever looking for new ideas and new opportunities. He and my mom had nine children but until they hit number 9 they moved around quite a bit. I went to half a dozen grade schools and three high schools. I finished my high school career in a new school, in a new state. Who in the heck does that!!! Well, those were the days when if mom and dad moved ALL the kids moved too.

My husband grew up in the same town, Aurora, CO, all his life. He did live in two homes and that was a BIG move for his family. When we married my rolling stone nature rubbed off I guess and for the first ten years of our married life we moved alot; to college, to work, to college,  to work, to college…you get the picture.

Then we moved to Montana and lived in three different homes until we landed in Laurel. That was a turning point for us, and we found ourselves planted for twenty-one years. For me, that was an amazing experience, to be in one place for twenty-one years. I liked the feeling of having roots, of belonging someplace.

Laurel, MT. a railroad town filled with refineries.

Laurel was a small town and while we lived there it grew to 10,000. You could cross it from one side to the other in about five minutes.

There are some real advantages to small town living. One day I got a call from the bank. “Mary Ann, we have a check here from a casino in _______ and we’re pretty sure that you didn’t write it.” My checkbook had been stolen. That call saved me lots of money and frustration.

As a girl, I had never learned how to balance a checkbook. So, one day when I was in a huge mess I visited the bank with a stack of about 12 check registers and asked for some help. The sweet woman that I talked with took my stack of check registers home, balanced the whole thing and then taught me how to do it every month. Cost, exactly zip!!!

I had seven children and they caught lots of illness over the years. Ear infections were common, as were sore throats. I would call my trusty general practitioner (there are no specialists in small towns) and say, “Robert, Marie isn’t feeling well and has a green runny nose. I’m sure she has an ear infection. Will you call something in?” “Sure Mary. You’ve seen enough ear infections to know”.  As I said, small town living has its advantages!

Laurel swells from 10,000 to 30,000 on July 4th.

Here’s something else quite unique about this small town. They have a firework display to DIE for. I am not kidding. The Laurel fireworks display is so magnificent that on the Fourth of July the population swells to 30,000 people. This is not an exaggeration! They all want to see the most spectacular fireworks display in the state of Montana. About two weeks before the big day the fire engine rolls through town stopping on every street and the firemen knock on doors collecting money for the display. On the Fourth of July, the firemen stand at the freeway exit into Laurel with black rubber boots and collect money to pay for the show.

Our family loved and really celebrated on the Fourth of July. It became one of our treasured traditions. We would pack up a large cooler of watermelon, fried chicken, potato salad and treats and head to the park at about 2:00 pm. We staked out our space with blankets and then just chilled out while the kids ran all over the park meeting friends, watching the parade and blowing off fireworks. Neighbors and friends would walk by and we’d have a good chat. I loved it.

You’re probably asking yourself, “Good grief, when was this, 1950? How old is this woman anyway!!!” Well, this is how it was right up until we left in 2003, bank, doctor, fireworks and all.

My adult children, half in their 40’s, still talk about those good old days and the 4th of July. One year we all went back to Laurel just to take it in one last time. More recently they all came to our home in Utah and we made a great effort to recreate it.

Traditions, no matter how homely, hold families together. They are the fodder of great reminiscent conversations. Be sure that in all the busyness of life you’re creating some family traditions. When your kids are in their 40’s you will be glad you did!

Happy Fourth of July!

Add Presence to Your Summer!

I’m glad summer is here. I like summer. I like the freedom that comes with summer. BUT summer can be a very busy time. Sometimes the pace outstrips my ability to keep up.

For me the pace began to pick up in March as I worked on my garden. It was so rainy that I worried I might not have a garden this year but it’s coming along nicely now.

My poor patio garden really took a beating last year and through the winter with the free range chickens. Then totally covered over early spring until the chicken run was done and they were contained. I feel as if it’s a gift from God especially for me every time I look at it. There is no way that we could have this little piece of heaven after the chickens. But here it is and it’s so beautiful.

Putting up the pergola came next and since my husband has physical limitations I learned that I can do some pretty difficult things. Very cool!

I spent almost two weeks in Seattle with my youngest daughter’s family. New babies are so wonderful! I helped them landscape the front yard. Whew, that was a lot of work. They waited until I got there because they had this idea that I know a lot about plants, how they grow, how to design gardens, etc. Yikes! It was a real adventure at the greenhouse picking everything out. It was an even greater adventure designing and planting everything. However, it turned out great and we got some good together time in the bargain.

Don spent part of his time helping the kids create a fairy village in the crooks of the big tree by the front door. The kids LOVED that. I learned all about play dough and the wonderful things that kids can create. : ) Then we moved on to bubble snakes. We also built and exploded a volcano because Elliott like everything prehistoric.

This Friday I returned home after a three day service project at my sisters house. I and another sister and her husband were hanging sheet rock, mudding, and taping the basement. Whew, that is a lot of work and a lot of ladder time. They project that they may have it all done by the end of July and so I may have the opportunity to do another stint on the ladder.

I also made a big decision this spring, to spend the summer writing. So I sat down and set up a writing schedule because without a firm plan it wouldn’t happen right? Two days later I became ill for the first time in two years. Hmm, might be my bodies comment on the whole writing thing. : )

Then a week later my computer went down. That in itself wasn’t so bad but that is how I discovered that the backup system I have been paying for for two years wasn’t backing anything up. YIKES!!! Not the systems fault but mine. Didn’t know what I was doing. It was a miracle we were able to retrieve all the data from the dead computer. So grateful because many files are not replaceable and all my writing would have been lost.

Now the computer is in some faraway manufacturing site being repaired and I am working on a cobbled together computer system. I have been out of sorts over it and haven’t quite gotten my feet back under me so the writing has been going slow. Not to fear though because I am fairly resilient and Monday is a new week. Pressing forward.

Summer is a wonderful, as well as a challenging time. If you have kids added to the mix then it can be even more so. Despite the distractions and business of summer, make sure you spend some present time with your children. As each summer passes it can’t be reclaimed. So hang on to what you can of them and make some memories. You will treasurer them later. Happy Summer!

Are You Sick of Mother’s Day?

 

When my youngest daughter was pregnant with her first baby, she began a blog titled “Countdown to Motherhood.” Each week she had a different mother from her circle of women write an article about their experience with mothering. I was one of the mom’s in that circle.

Today I’m sharing what I wrote on that long-ago Mother’s Day. (Link for the original article HERE)

Why Mothering Can Feel So Hard

I never thought much about being a mother. I mean you grew up, got married and had kids. Everyone did it; everyone that I knew anyway, and they didn’t seem to make a big deal about it. But it is a BIG deal. I had so much to learn about being a mother.

• It doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
• It isn’t always a piece of cake.
• Sometimes it’s overwhelming.
• You often don’t know what to do next.
• If you just keep at it, it will be the very best thing you ever do!!
• I would do it over again even though there were some very hard times.

At almost seventy I look back with fondness on those earlier days. I look at pictures of my sweet children and realize that I didn’t understand how wonderful they were. It’s so easy to get caught up in the work of mothering that you forget to pay attention to the joys of being a mother.

A Few Things That I Would Want to Understand If I Had It To Do Over

• Realize that the time will come when you will miss hearing your child say “mom.” It can be wearing now but you will miss it!
• Cherish every wet, sticky, sloppy kiss because no matter how many you get, they will never be enough! You will want more of them long after your child is grown.
• A clean house is not more important than a sweet relationship with your child. Messy bedrooms eventually disappear and so does the child – into adulthood – and then all you have left is a clean room and hopefully a child who wants to come home to visit.
• Conversations with a child are amazing if you take the time to listen. I know that right now you just want to hear quiet, but the day will come when you will miss that childish prattle.
• A child’s laughter and joy are contagious. Catch it because it renews your own energy and relieves stress.
• Being the caretaker of another person’s learning and personal growth is an amazing stewardship and is worth all the time and effort it takes to do it with kindness and gentleness.

Now that I’m a grandmother, I understand these things better. Moving at a slower and gentler pace is what grandparents do and so we see a bit more clearly and we enjoy a bit more deeply.

Any mother who is clear on the importance of being a mother and is willing to make it her number one priority for a short while can understand these things long before she is a grandmother.

Child-rearing lasts only a short time so, despite the challenges, weariness and redundant work, embrace every Mother’s Day while your kids are in your home. Once they leave it will never be the same!

Your Shares Are The Bst Compliment : )