Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Each Day is a Gift

A couple of weeks ago a dear friend of our family passed away very suddenly. I watched as her husband and two daughters grieved their loss. It really made me think about the reality that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. All too often I think I and probably others assume there is always tomorrow to make things right or to say I love you.

The other night my daughter and I were having a conversation about this. I shared with her that what happened to this family is exactly why I think it is important that no matter what has gone on between us that our family parts for the day on a good note. It would be a pretty hard pill to swallow if my last words to my child or my spouse were harsh ones.

As 2009 is knocking at my door, I am thinking about the things I want to focus on in the new year. One thing for sure is making certain that I don't take for granted the time I have with my family and the opportunity I have to make every goodbye or good night count.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Not to Buy Your Wife for Christmas

This is the time of year when many husbands break out in a cold sweat trying to figure out just the right gift to give their wife so they won’t end up in the doghouse. To help you men out a bit, I conducted an informal survey asking women what their husbands should NOT give them for Christmas. Some of the items mentioned were: a vacuum cleaner, an ice crusher, tools, a low-calorie cookbook, anything that plugs in, air conditioner vents and dish towels.

The clock is ticking and Christmas will be here before you know it. Now that you know a few of the things you should not purchase, how do you know what would be a great gift?

Be a good understudy to your wife. Listen carefully to what she says. Pay attention to the things she enjoys and the way she spends her time. Does she like to cook, garden, sew, read, knit, go to the movies, or ride bikes? You might even try asking her to give you a list of things she would like for Christmas. (NOTE: Wives, if your husband asks you to make a list of things you would like for Christmas, please do it. Don’t respond with, “If you don’t know what to buy me for Christmas, I am certainly not going to tell you.”) Men, with a little investigative work you can uncover some helpful hints that will guide you in your gift buying.

When asked what they would like for Christmas from their husbands, here are some of the things the wives said:

Women like to be pampered, so consider a gift certificate for a massage or a pedicure.

It is nice to have a break from cooking every so often. What about either making plans to take the children out to dinner one evening allowing your wife to stay at home in peace and quite and/or purchasing a gift certificate and taking her on a date to her favorite restaurant or on a romantic getaway?

Does your wife have a hobby? For instance, if she enjoys cooking and trying new recipes you might buy her a gift certificate to a cooking class – they even offer couples cooking classes.

A rule of thumb that you might want to consider is, if it is practical, don’t buy it. It isn’t something that should be given as a gift.

If all else fails and you are still at a loss it isn’t against the rules to ask her to accompany you on a shopping spree to find the perfect gift.

For more holiday survival tips visit firstthings.org

Monday, December 15, 2008

Leaving a Legacy

This weekend we traveled to Maryville, Tennessee to attend the funeral of my husband's uncle. While it was definitely a celebration of his life, it was clearly a sad day for family and friends alike. Curtis was an amazing man who never met a stranger. In fact, if you knew him you were considered family and treated that way.

As I was sitting at the funeral I was thinking about how difficult this Christmas will be for his two girls, their spouses and the grandkids. My heart was heavy as I watched them mourning. Curtis and his wife, Martha Ann, gave this family a wonderful legacy and MANY great memories.

I know we are all probably pretty busy with Christmas preparations, but I pray that none of us forget that one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is our constant presence in their lives and something to live up to after we are gone.

While speaking at the funeral, my husband charged the grandkids to pay attention to the way Curtis lived his life and to understand that part of living out his legacy is learning how to pass it on.

It made me think about the legacy I hope we are passing on to our daughter - one of giving to others, being authentic, loving each other well....even on the bad days and making others feel like family to name a few. Maybe I will ask her and see what she says.....

What is the legacy you hope to pass on to your kids and grandkids?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Serving Military Families

I have several friends who have a spouse in the military. It has made me think about how appreciative I am that they are willing to serve, but it makes me very sad that these families will celebrate Christmas without their mom, dad, wife or husband. As I was talking with one of my friends, I asked her what we could do to be supportive. I thought I would pass along a few of the suggestions she gave me.

  • Take the children for a few hours to give respite to the parent.
  • Say thank you. These families make a significant sacrifice on behalf of our country. To acknowledge this to the families is huge.
  • Include the sons of deployed dads in your father/son activities - they get tired of being stuck with just the girls. Same thing for daughters if the Mom is the military member.
  • Organize meals just like you would for a new baby - set one night a week aside to deliver food to the family.
  • Have your whole block show tie yellow ribbons around trees to help everyone remember their deployed neighbor.
  • Check on the family regularly. The spouse left behind needs to know that another grown up is around even if they don't need anything.
  • Invite the family along on outings with your family even if it's just for a quick ice cream.

  • Think about chores dads do - help with the garbage cans each week or offer to change the oil in the car. Help with the window air conditioners or just getting the Christmas tree into the house.
  • Write letters to the deployed soldier letting him/her know you are watching over their family.

This is a great time of year to make a commitment to year round service to military families.

What will you and your family do to make this Christmas and 2009 a better year for a military family you know?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A House Divided

I am struck by the fact that more than one million children, young and older, each year find themselves in the precarious situation, after their parents’ divorce, of feeling like they have to choose one parent over the other. While many anticipate the holidays as a time of celebration, being together as a family, exchanging gifts and creating wonderful memories, children of divorce often have bittersweet feelings as this time of year seems to magnify the reality of their situation.
Elizabeth Einstein, National Stepfamily Educator and author of Strengthening Your Stepfamily, says there are no easy answers, but there are some things adult children of divorce can do to make the holidays easier.

Plan ahead – This is key to getting the holidays off to the right start. There are no rules that say you must visit everyone in the same day. Consider rotating holidays with each family or celebrating on a day other than the designated holiday. Planning in advance also gives family members time to deal with the change.

Have realistic expectations – Expecting the holidays to be as they once were is unrealistic. Temper your dreams with reality. Remember, you can’t please everyone all the time and there are no perfect families. If you try to do everything, the potential for exhaustion, resentment and hurt feelings is high.

Create your own holiday traditions – Create your own way of celebrating the holidays. Maybe you could host an annual get together with friends or attend a special worship service.

Boundaries – Everybody wants some of your time. It is up to you to set boundaries. Be clear about what you will and won’t do.

Ask for support from friends during this time – Find someone in a similar situation who can empathize with you and help you find some creative ways to celebrate.

Be nice to yourself - Make time for a walk, a leisurely gift wrapping session, and doing things you wouldn’t normally do. Where the whole season is about rush, rush, rush, make yours about calm, calm, calm.

For those who feel their loyalty must be divided around the holidays, focusing on the true meaning of the holiday can make it more meaningful. The season is not about presents or rushing around to different houses. It is about love, remembering the good times you’ve had in the past, and creating new memories with the ones you care about. The stress may not always disappear, but it can be more manageable if you have a plan you can execute with confidence and creativity.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Families on the Run

This past Saturday First Things First held Families on the Run. When I got up at 4:30 in the morning I could tell it was cold outside - and then I went outside. Oh Boy! Cold would be an understatement. We had right at 500 people registered to run. When we got to the starting line - clearly people had either decided the warm bed was just too good to get out of or they waited until the very last minute to come out which meant we started a little late. In spite of the cold we still had 300 people including lots of families participate. We got the 5k, 10k and Santa Stroll going and then the fun really started. It was so cold our timing machines kept freezing up. When we got them thawed out and working again the ink in the the machine froze. As a back up we were writing out times as people crossed the finish line - the ink in the pen froze. Did I mention it was COLD outside. The race officials said this was the coldest race they had ever done. What a distinction!

The good news is people loved the event and families spent time together, which is exactly what we were hoping for especially at this time of year.

Hope you are getting some good quality time with your family! When it comes to what really counts, this is at the top of the list.

I am interested in knowing creative ways you spend time together as a family.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Marriage Champions

I have just returned from spending 4 days with Marriage Champions from across the country. WOW!!! What an amazing time. We learned about new technology that is going to be available to couples in the coming year along with exciting new marriage strengthening tools.

In the midst of everything I hear on the news and the marriages that I see falling apart around me, I admit there are days when I ask myself....are we really making a difference? Are we loosing the battle? I know in my heart that there is no question we are making a difference, but sometimes it just gets discouraging when it is like pulling teeth to get people to do simple things that would make such a dramatic difference in their marriage relationship. It's like they have time for everything else, except taking care of their marriage.

I wish everybody could have spent this week engaged in conversation with these Marriage Champions. Talk about uplifting and hope filled! Whew!!!!! From the research to the "in the trenches" testimonies of folks working with people all over this nation, people clearly, in fact, I would say desperately, want marriage. Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks who see marriage as out of their reach for various reasons and others who are scared silly when it comes to the idea of trying to make a marriage work.

Once again I was reminded that it is easy to get caught up in your own work and your own marriage and operate in a silo. However, as all of us spent time together this week we were encouraging and reminding each other of the difference we are making in the lives of many marriages and children. I think we all left rejuvenated and ready to fight the good fight!!

There are so many great things happening across our country and right here in Chattanooga to help people build strong marriages and families. That is a very good thing!!!!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Black Friday

Did you get lured to the stores for the after Thanksgiving sales like I did? We were up and out at 5:30 am. Crazy huh?! Based on everything in the news about the economy, I really wondered if people would come out. Maybe it was a little lighter than last year, but there were plenty of people and they were definitely spending.

But here is what struck me while I was at the mall....I really don't NEED anything. I saw a ton of stuff I would love to have, but when the rubber meets the road, what I need the most and what I think other people want the most, money can't buy. You can't buy my friendship or my love. Money can't buy me happiness or family.

So I think I have decided to go a different route this Christmas. I love it when I find the perfect gift that someone will really enjoy, but I think for the most part I am not going to find those gifts in a store. I think it has more to do with my time and talent.

Here are a few things I have thought of that I can do for others that require very little money:

homemade goodies for my friends
having some friends over for coffee and conversation
taking care of a friend's child so they can have a date night

Okay - so I'm still working on my list. Any suggestions?????

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Real Reason We Celebrate Thanksgiving!

The Macy's parade, football, food, family and friends...what could be better on Thanksgiving day? This is one of my favorite days of the year. Taking time out to think about what we are thankful for is a cool thing, especially in today's world where it is so easy to get caught up in whining about what we don't have.

I am thankful for...

...family, friends, good health, a husband who makes me LAUGH, a daughter who frequently reminds me I am so not cool, and two golden retrievers who love the simple things in life - tennis balls, bones, and humans who are willing to pet them;

...a job I am passionate about, a home that is a sanctuary, the freedom to worship as I choose, living in a country where I am allowed to freely express my opinion, and the ability to stare in amazement at jet streams going in a million different directions high in the sky;

....food on the table, the opportunity to grow and learn and the freedom to be who I am.

I hope you are having a great Thanksgiving day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bring on the Second Turkey

I have run into a number of people who will eat not one, but two Thanksgiving dinners tomorrow to keep peace in the family. I've known families who visit one set of parents in the morning, eat a big lunch and hang out for a couple of hours and then head over to the other set of parents for the “second turkey.”
Do you ever find yourself getting irritable just anticipating the craziness of a holiday?
This is what I know to be true...when I let that irritation get the best of me….I take it out on the ones I love the most – my spouse and daughter. The potential for a perfectly good holiday gets shot right out the window.
I have learned that things don’t have to go south. It’s true that attitude is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you choose to respond. Just like athletes prepare for a marathon, you and I can prepare for the Thanksgiving Marathon. Come up with a game plan. It could include secret hand signals that mean it’s time to go or a code word that lets the other know I could use a little help with the kids.
What creative things do you do to keep the fun in your holidays?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Divorce Costs Too Much

I was reading yesterday about couples who were wanting to divorce, but basically can't because it costs too much due to the poor economy. ( http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27808110) This is very interesting because one of the issues we deal with is couples making a huge life changing decision like this and not taking into consideration what it will cost now and down the road.

Maybe one of the positive consequences of the poor economy is it will make people think twice about decisions that will affect their pocketbook. Honestly, I think most people who divorce have no clue what the costs will be for running two households, back and forth visitation, remarriage, college, insurance, old kids, new kids, etc. Now keep in mind I am referring to most divorces where there is low conflict and people say they have just fallen out of love. In these instances if there is something that will slow people down and really make them think about the LONG term impact of this one decision, I'm all for it.

Truth be told, if people would expend the amount of energy they are willing to spend on getting divorced on actually getting their marriage back on track, I think they would be amazed at how much better the marriage they are currently in could be.

What are your thoughts???

Monday, November 24, 2008

On the Go!

So this weekend I was running around like crazy with my "to do" list trying to get everything done. Friday night we had a basketball game and didn't get in until late. Went to a surprise party Saturday morning, which was totally fun. Came home. Ran to the grocery store. Came back home hoping to get in a power nap before heading out to supper club. That didn't happen. Got in late and went to bed.

When I got up yesterday morning my voice was almost gone and I didn't feel so hot. I really wanted to go to church, but my body was saying NO! Normally I would have gotten up and gone anyway, but I decided that the world would not go into a holding pattern if I didn't go so I stayed home. Don't know if anybody can relate to this, but this is MAJOR PROGRESS for a driven type A.

So, I did make some chicken noodle soup and it was GOOD! But other than that I basically didn't do anything major. Just chilled.

Lesson learned: Rest is a good thing. Duh!

I am feeling much better today ready to take on the week. Hope you will spend some time resting and enjoying family this week.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Joy of Giving

WOW! Just in time for Thanksgiving folks heard a great message last night from Carol Weisman about teaching children the joy of giving. As promised, I will share with you some of her insights. However, you have to know that Carol is pretty comical when she presents. Don't know if I can transfer that to paper, but I'll give it my best effort.

So what is the right age to introduce your children to charitable giving? Weisman believes that even at the young age of three or four children can begin to grasp giving and caring for others.

She shared how she and her husband called a family meeting each year at Christmas time to determine where they would make donations. They used Monopoly money to help the children visually see where all the money was going. Weisman said one year they still had charities that they wanted to give to, but the money was gone. Her oldest son looked at his dad and said, "Well, you are just going to have to work harder because we need more money!"

I was interested in the fact that Carol does not recommend making donations instead of giving gifts to children because they then associate charitable giving with loss. Her suggestion is to tell your child that in addition to their birthday party you would like to make a gift in their honor. Ask them where they would like you to donate. If they struggle to come up with something asking questions like, What did you enjoy doing this past year? or What makes you happy? can help you make a donation to something that is meaningful to them.

A friend of Carol's who is a grandmother told her granddaughter that for her birthday she didn't want her to buy a gift. She wanted her to go and do something nice for someone and then come tell her what she did.

The one thing Carol wishes she had done through the years was keep a journal of all of the places they gave to and why.

Carol believes that whether you have a lot of money to give or you are operating off of a shoestring there are lots of creative ways to teach children about giving. If you can't give money, give time. A friend of Carol's, who is a single mother, gathered her kids together once a month on Saturday to go volunteer. They were allowed to bring a friend if they wanted to, but not coming was not an option. Despite the fact that they were barely making it, the mom insisted they give to others. Now a grown woman, one of the daughters commented that the volunteering she did with her family was one of the things that most impacted her life.

Carol contends that teaching your children to be great givers can strengthen the bonds of family and friendship. Even though their boys are grown and living on their own, they still gather for their annual family meeting. A rich closeness has developed in this family as a result of coming together to share what they valued, what made them happy and experiences that had helped them be who they are today.

We are headed into Thanksgiving week. In the midst of all the bad news that seems to be circling overhead I think the best news is that we as people have so much to give. Whether we have lots of money or just a little we all can make a difference somewhere.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Teaching Children to Give

I am looking forward to attending a seminar this morning on fundraising in difficult times. Then I get to interview Carol Weisman, author of Raising Charitable Children for the First Things First television show. I think this will be a great discussion since kids today are inundated with all kinds of messages about being consumers and it's all about you.

There probably isn't a household in America where children have not overheard or participated in conversations with their parents about the economy and how much money has been lost. But conversations about giving, why to give and to whom are not near as common between parents and children.

What is the right age to introduce your children to charitable giving? How much is an appropriate amount to give? How do you encourage your children to be generous givers? These are all questions I plan to ask Ms. Weisman so stay tuned if you are interested in the answers. I'll share them with you tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It takes a team

This morning I attended a kickoff breakfast for an event we will be holding in January called Championship Fathers. It was really exciting to have folks come together from across the community who are passionate about the importance of father involvement. As ideas were generated and people got excited you could feel the momentum in the room. I LOVE IT!!!!! I think it is so easy to get busy in your own little silo doing your own deal that you forget there are other people out there who share your passion and want to collaborate. I honestly got goosebumps thinking about the potential for this event with all of us working together and sharing the load.

Sometimes it seems like the issues are just too big to conquer, but this meeting reminded me that the reality is we are the best stewards of our time, energy and talent when we work as a team.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I love Fall

I love fall! I love the crisp air, watching the leaves turn and my favorite - watching the sunrise off of our deck.

This past weekend as I was headed to get some shopping done I saw the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. It was huge and the colors were brilliant. I pulled over just to stare.

Honestly, whenever I see things like this I just cannot help but give thanks that I can actually SEE the majesty of this world I live in. It never ceases to amaze me.
We are headed into a season where emphasis is placed on giving thanks. Lately it seems like all I hear about is how unstable the stock market is, home sales are down, bankruptcies are up, and credit card debt is out of control. If I am not careful I can easily get caught up in all the gloom. BUT the truth is, even in the midst of this craziness I still have so many things to be thankful for, not the least of which are my family and friends.
It is so easy for me to get caught up in the busyness of life that I loose track of how blessed I am. I have my health, a husband who loves me, my daughter who reminds me on a daily basis that I'm not too cool, a great job, freedom to express my opinions, friends who care enough about me to tell me the truth, and extended family who love me.....most of the time.
When I'm feeling sorry for myself because I want this or that and really can't afford it nor do I need it, something usually comes along to remind me I really have an amazing life.
So what are you thankful for?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Beware of Teen Drivers

Okay so I am the mother of a teenager that is 3 months away from 16. Do I need to tell you what we talk about ALL the time???? In case you couldn't guess..DRIVING!!!!! I must admit she is a decent driver, but we have had our moments. Like when we let her drive to Huntsville. It's a pretty easy stretch to drive until you are actually coming into Huntsville where it all of the sudden gets a little tricky. She needed to get in the left lane so I told her to make sure there was no one in her blind spot. She turned her head to look and at the same time Jay and I started having a coronary because the car started veering the opposite direction barely missing the car in the next lane. Whew!!!

It has been quite comical because for those who know me I am certain you would think I would be the more uptight one, but truth be told, Jay is the one who gets pretty uptight when Ashley is behind the wheel. I consider this quite an accomplishment on my part.

The thing that has surprised me most has been Ashley's new found appreciation for how hard it is to be a safe, defensive driver. We went from her being totally confident that driving was a piece of cake to "WOW this is a lot harder than it looks."

In the process of teaching her how to be a good driver I am now having any and all of my bad driving habits pointed out to me on a regular basis. Thank you very much.

If you haven't had the privilege of sharing this experience with your child, hold on to your hat. You are in for a real treat! This sure has made me think about what I put my own parents through as I learned to drive.

Overarchingly, this has been a great experience as we continue to prepare Ashley for being out in the real world. In the midst of these teen years where it feels like a constant tug of war between dependance and independance it is clear to all THREE of us that she stills needs her mom and dad to help her as she navigates the road of life. Bottomline - that's what it's all about.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Surviving the Holidays

Not long after Jay and I married, the holidays hit us square in the face. I LOVE the holidays, but we were trying to be everywhere with everybody in order to make sure nobody was unhappy. Can I tell you this about did us in?!

It only took one holiday season for us to know we had to set some limits and make decisions about how we were going to spend the holidays. Ultimately we decided to spend Thanksgiving at my mom's and Christmas at home with both sides of the family.

Every family situation is different and people need to decide for themselves what will work best. But one thing is for sure, more so than any other time of the year, the holidays can bring out the worst in us if we aren't careful.

I myself have set some goals for this year. I am only going to put up our favorite decorations and I am going to help our daughter decorate the tree this year instead of telling her how we are going to decorate it. I love to bake and entertain so I plan on spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I will invite friends over for informal get togethers....even if the house isn't spotless instead of just talking doing it.

I am going to keep my time with my family and friends in perspective. The holidays only last a couple of weeks and then it is back to the chaos we all know as real life.

My ultimate goal is not to get so worked up over everything, that I don't enjoy the time I have with the people I care about most.

What about you? How will you be spending the holidays?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Staying sane in a working woman's world

Last week I was thinking about how ironic it was that I was teaching Staying Sane in a Working Woman's World. I had just wrapped up a whirlwind trip to Canada where I was awake for 23 1/2 hours along with being a wife, mother, working woman not to mention friend. Isn't it crazy how we swear we aren't going to over commit and then you turn around and you've done it again. At our event Thursday night as I was listening to myself speak I'm thinking in my head, Here's your sign sister!!! I did have some great points even if I do say so myself. So I've decided I'm really going to follow my own advice.

Here are a few of the things I talked about:

What are your top 5 priorities? Sometimes we put our priorities in writing, but we do not live our life that way.

As working women it is really important that we keep the main thing the main thing.

Focus on what you can control. We often expend a lot of energy getting anxious and uptight about things over which we have no control.

Keep your expectations realistic. This includes housekeeping, laundry, children's activities, etc.

So as I am thinking about the upcoming holidays I am going to ask my friends to hold me accountable for not going overboard.

Seeking to stay sane.....Julie