Three Tips for Great Family Getaways

vacationA recent girl’s night out included some shared appetizers, cool beverages and tons of conversation. It had been a while since this group had all been together and we had a lot of catching up to do.

Eventually the conversation focused on “what I did for summer vacation.” A big birthday and significant anniversary had been celebrated with a trip to Portland. An upcoming New York weekend, including a Broadway show, was discussed. And two shared their version of the Chevy Chase “Family Vacation.” You know the ones: rock-hard beds in tiny shared quarters where you learn way too much about one another. The kayak river trip in a mostly dried up creek, or the beach trip that featured six straight days of rain. People can get cross with the circumstances—and with one another.

We laughed till we cried, but later I thought about the tradition of family vacations. We laugh at Clark Griswold’s family because we’ve most likely been there at some point. All that togetherness can be a challenge.

Vacations with little ones can be stressful; they’re away from the familiar, routines are disrupted, and the items that comfort them are unavailable. Our own summer getaways when our boys were young were spent in the 113 degree heat of Palm Springs at the Oasis Water Park and Resort. Sounds swanky, right? In the winter, we’d have paid a premium price. But in July, $99 a night bought us a two bedroom condo with maid service and daily water park passes for the entire family. Living big, I tell you.

We continued the tradition as our sons became adults, adding their wives and little boys as they appeared on the scene.  We’ve enjoyed snowy mountains at Christmas, Florida’s DisneyWorld, and the many attractions of Southern California. Each trip offered a challenge or two, but we enjoyed them and recall them fondly. It’s been two years since our last trip, and we’ve added four more little boys to the mix in that time, but we look forward to the next opportunity to do it again.

Traveling with adult children is a very different experience and requires a process that varies from when they were little. And even though the traditional summer vacation season is drawing to a close, three day weekends and trips for the holidays are year round. We’ve gained some insights over the years, so  I’m sharing some ideas that surfaced as we’ve traveled together. Here are three tips we’ve discovered that can make a big difference.

  • Include EVERYONE in the planning process. You might be surprised to learn that your services as travel director and tour guide are not always welcome. You may prefer to hit the beach while others would rather see the museums or area theme parks. Let everyone weigh in; we all like to be heard. Does everyone have to do everything together everyday? Or is there room for a freestyle day when the group splits off to pursue varied interests? A break from all that togetherness can be a great bonus!
  • Clarify expectations. What are the financial arrangements? Will the cost be shared evenly across the family? What if one couple has three kids, and another has none? Will they pay the same for the lodging, rental car, and meals you prepare in your condo or cabin? Do the math well in advance so everyone knows what to expect. And what about chores? If you’re in a rental home, consider creating a plan. Rotate cooking, clean up and trash duty. Discuss it before plans are made so no one is surprised. A family meeting to discuss the details will make a big difference.
  • Be flexible. The cabin might be a bit musty, hikes gets rained out, and rental cars break down on occasion. Know going in this stuff happens, and if it does, make the best of it. Air out the cabin, do a rainy day movie marathon, and tell Hertz you expect a big upgrade in the replacement vehicle. Remember the unofficial beatitude: Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not break!

The “vacation” might simply be a family visit to celebrate the holidays together. Will the grandparents be expected to be on-call babysitters? We usually offer a time to let the big kids have some time together while we enjoy our grandsons. Recently we split it up: the girls stayed in with the six little boys one night, and the guys were on duty the next. Again, communicating is key; make no assumptions.

Lastly, remember that one of the big benefits is the chance to be together, to enjoy one another’s company. It should be a feature of the vacay, not a cross to bear. Whether it’s a Thanksgiving weekend, a Christmas trip seeking sunshine, or a traditional summer vacation, a little pre-planning can make it one for the scrapbooks!

Different’s Not Wrong, It’s Just Different!

Thanksgiving 2014This will be a different kind of Thanksgiving holiday. Many of our family members (and some oft-included friends) will be traveling this year to see family in other places. Instead of our usual table for 35 or so, we will be fourteen for turkey. Different.

Especially since the chief turkey briner/cook will not be present. No worries, our matriarch will step in to baste that bird into glorified goodness. I don’t need to double or triple the side dishes, and we will cut the recipe for pumpkin cheesecake in half. I’ve included it here if you’d like to give it a try. It’s from my son’s mama-in-law, Dru. A legendary cook in her own right, but alas, about 1000 miles from my home in North Texas.

So it’s different. And I have to remember that different’s not wrong. It’s just . . .different. It’s good to experience change on occasion and get out of the rut we can find ourselves in. Someone once told me that a rut is just a grave open at both ends. No thanks!

So instead of feeling blue over the crowd that won’t gather, I’ve decided to treasure the pleasure that will come with a smaller assembly. No scrambling for the white meat. No gravy shortage.  Fewer dishes and less time in the kitchen. But that’s the low hanging fruit. What about something a bit meatier? Here are three differences I’m looking forward to this year.

  • Less focus on food and more on family. When you’re cooking for 35, it can be all about coordinating the timing so the turkey is ready to carve at the same time the sweet potatoes are bubbly hot. It can be stressful and I’ve been known to snap at my loved ones who wander out to the kitchen and ask, “Isn’t it ready yet?” It’s an aggravation I’m still learning to manage. So I’m grateful there will be fewer folks to watch the clock as their stomach growls. I plan to hold a few babies, visit with my sweet mother-in-law, and hold my hubby’s hand while we watch some football. If the schedule gets off a bit, I’ll add microwaves to my gratitude list for the day.
  • The opportunity for meaningful conversation. With 30+ folks milling around, sometimes the discussions are more small talk and catching up. I’m looking forward to a hearty discussion or two on the recent election results, hearing about a new job for one family member, and debating with my brother-in-law, someone I love dearly, but with whom I rarely agree. And asking my 7-year old great-niece, “what’s new in first grade?” always yields a great discovery, along with a smile over just how grown up she is these days.
  • Time to reflect on the immeasurable goodness of God. The name “Thanksgiving” implies we should be focused on the gifts and blessings in our lives. Gratitude is the attitude that helps us keep the little things from becoming the big things. An awareness of the goodness in our life calibrates our thinking and balances out the occasional icky stuff without catastrophizing it. And with a smaller crowd, we can take a few minutes around the table to share our greatest blessing of the year. The food would be cold if we tried to do that with our usual crowd, so I’m hoping we can include it in this different kind of year. I love to hear how God’s working in the lives of those I treasure.

Colossians 3:15 encourages us: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” I pray your holiday brings you a refreshed awareness of God’s presence in your life – no matter what your circumstances. He sees you. He loves you. So while this Thanksgiving might be different – He remains the same, yesterday, today and forever. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Dru’s Fabulous Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

Filling:

3 – 8oz blocks cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar, divided

1 tsp. vanilla

3 eggs

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

dash ground cloves

 

Crust:

2 cups finely crushed ginger snaps (you can sub graham crackers)

½ cup finely chopped pecans

6 Tbsp. butter, melted

 

Beat cream cheese, ¾ cup of the sugar and vanilla with electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs one at a time mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended. Reserve 1-½ cups of the plain batter. Stir remaining ¼ cup sugar, pumpkin, and spices into remaining batter. Spoon ½ of the pumpkin batter over the crust, top with spoonfuls of ½ of the reserved plain butter. Repeat layers. Cut through batters with knife several times for a marble effect. Pour into a lightly greased spring form pan.

 

Bake at 325 degrees for 55 minutes or until center is almost set. Loosen cake from side of the pan and cool before removing. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. 12 servings.

 

It’s a (Simply) Wonderful Life

ifwt_ARRalphie_SteveChristmas trees have appeared in the big box stores in my area. Wreaths, garland, and red velvet ribbon can be easily located. I’ve yet to hear carols piped into the mall, but my bet is that it won’t be long.

This year we will be blessed with five little grandboys gathered in our home for the holidays. A sixth is waiting in the wings, scheduled to arrive after the New Year. The boys range in age from 3 months to 7 years old. It’s going to be noisy. And messy. And all kinds of wonderful.

As “Papa” and I consider the gift lists, I feel certain I will be asked to do what I dread every year: take a trip to the toy store. It’s not a new issue for me; I didn’t like them when I was raising my own sons. The huge emporiums of battery-begging, plasticized wonders, with price tags that would make Saint Nick consider early retirement are not my idea of a good time. And the thought of that stuff finding a home at my house makes me a little woozy. I cringe at the spectacle the season has become, and wonder what God must think about it all.

Holidays are gift-giving opportunities, and I do enjoy seeing the faces of my boys, both tall and tiny, as they open something special, selected just for them. How do we keep our balance, with a focus on honoring Christ and enjoying gift giving and the blessing it brings?

Several years ago, before the grandboys began arriving, my hubby and I proposed a new Christmas plan to our sons and daughters-in-law. Our suggestion? A shared experience in place of gifts. There were a few raised eyebrows and requests for clarification, but eventually, thumbs up all around.

The first year we rented a mountain cabin where the snow and the crackling fire kept us inside playing games, watching movies and talking. Remember talking? It’s been downgraded thanks to the (anti)social media mania. The kids ventured out to ski and we all indulged in a quick snowball fight. We exchanged letters on Christmas morning, each writing a note to the others acknowledging the gifts and gratitude of doing life together. One of the best, ever.

Disney World was beautiful at the holidays, and one year we opted to delay the timing for some fun in the sun of California. As the years advanced, the first couple of kiddles joined us as travelers. I wouldn’t trade those trips and the time together for anything.

But this year with three babies 18 months and under, coupled with a very pregnant mama-to-be, travel is not an option. So we will enjoy time together with games and conversation and lots of meals in. I keep imagining the horror on the faces of restaurant owners (and fellow diners) at the request for three high chairs – at one table.

Logistics aside, the little ones will be wondering which packages under the tree might hold something special. So the toy store seems unavoidable. Or does it?

My niece, Amanda, posted a list entitled “18 Non-Toy Gifts for Children” on her Facebook page. The blog link revealed a list for toddlers as well. The blogger describes the life her family pursues as follows: My name is Rachel. I’m a minimalist, blogger, lover of Jesus, wife to Brian, mom to 6 and real food connoisseur. We live in a 1132 sq. ft. house, in Montana and strive for a simple life. I like her. And I respect her choice to live without all the stuff the marketeers work to convince us we must have.

The list is creative, with unusual suggestions like crafting dates, events, and memberships for the older kids. Books, games, and puzzles appear as steady eddie choices that never go out of style. The site, nourishingminimalism.com features healthy food, decluttering suggestions and living a simpler life where your things don’t own you.

So perhaps this year you might swim against the tide in the selection of gifts for your little ones. It’s never too late to make new choices. For the mid-centurians in the group, we’ve lived long enough to amass more than our share of stuff. There are two ways to be rich: make more or want less.  Perhaps we can help influence the little ones to choose wealth by wanting less stuff and living more life. As grandparents, we have a responsibility to the next generations so Jesus, not things, becomes the focus.

And if it minimizes the time in the toy store experience, I’m all in!

 

 

A Laugh At My Expense

Woman in home office with computer using telephone frowning

 

By Deb DeArmond

The grin on his face said it all. He was re-living a victory from earlier this morning.

“Don’t say a word,” I warned.

“It’s my magical power, you know.” He began to chuckle. Then guffaw.

I nearly spit coffee right into his face as I got caught up in a stream of laughter. It was funny. Now.

I spend a lot of time on my computer. Hours daily. Between writing books and my real job designing corporate training, Mac and I are joined at the hip, which, believe me, makes it tough to reach the keyboard from that position. But I digress.

You’d think that someone like me might have become tech savvy over the years. Nay, nay. I often find myself staring at the screen asking what just happened or what does that mean? Rich text, imap, and file extension, are among the terms that leave me in utter darkness. I office at home, and as a result, my husband has had a second job for years. He’s my tech guy. The pay stinks, but there are some decent benefits.

I keep believing that one of these days, I’m going to be successful at managing the electronica when a problem occurs. There is no evidence this is a realistic belief, but nonetheless, I pursue it and attempt to fix it myself. It’s become a pride issue, I’m sure. And it’s as yet, an unfulfilled dream.

“Haven’t I shown you how to do this before?” Ron often asks.

“Probably, but I’ve slept since then. I’m on a deadline, so can you just fix it, please?”

Printer issues, programs that won’t open, messages that read, “Word has encountered a problem and needs to close,” drive me crazy. I especially dislike that last one. I have a problem and you need to stay open! But no! It’s all about you!

Yesterday, Ron tried to talk me through adding a new printer to my computer so I could access it wirelessly.

“It’s easy,” he promised. Sounded good.

Did I mention we were trying to do this on the phone? Each time he told me to perform a function, I did just as he directed.

“It should now give you a choice. Pick the Canon printer and hit save.” He sounded so confident.

“It’s not giving me a choice. I can see it listed, but it won’t let me save.”

“Yes, it will. Hit save,” he responded.

“No. The save button is not illuminated. I’m hitting it. Nothing happens.”

I was beginning to get frustrated. After all, I was the one sitting there looking at it. I began pressing keys, moving to another window where I was sure I’d find the answer. Then another.

Now Ron, too, was aggravated. He was becoming frustrated with my impatience and my insistence in trying to move ahead on my own. It didn’t end well. And I still couldn’t print.

I apologized when he arrived home, explaining my deadline wasn’t forgiving. He was— forgiving, that is—and let me off the hook. Work was done for the day.

So this morning as I sat at my desk, I asked him to please come in and help me set up the printer. He came in and stood next to my desk, telling me which windows to open for the process.

As he stood behind me, I did exactly what I had done the day before. Exactly. And now, the save button was illuminated, screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!”

He smiled. Caught my eye and snorted as he tried to suppress a giggle. He went back to whatever he was doing before I asked for his help.

It’s a pattern at our house.

The running joke is that all he needs to do is darken the doorway of my office and the problem instantly resolves. He doesn’t even have to touch the computer. On occasion, he may set one foot in the door and voila! All is well. It’s as though, sensing his presence, the computer cowers before him. If we could just put that in an aerosol can and sell it, we’d be in the money.

So now, sitting across from me over coffee an hour later, he laughed, enjoying the moment. Again. And I chose to enjoy it with him. As frustrating as it may be, it was funny. It reminded me, again, how much I need him.

Isn’t that just how God deals with us? Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take, (NLT).

We struggle and fight with a problem, running on ahead of His instruction, when it would be so much easier to acknowledge our need for Him and ask for His help. In fact, sometimes just His appearance in the doorway, a step into the room, and peace floods over us. Stress dissolves, the solution becomes visible, and we are confidently back on track.

And, I’m pretty sure, God might chuckle at His children as we run from pillar to post, but I am certain he does not guffaw.

New Year, Clear Vision

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 12.03.06 PMThe coming of a new year nearly always includes a time of looking back. How did I do? What do I feel great about? What might I need or want to change going forward?

Could be some of the “starts” – eating healthfully, exercising more, carve out more family time. There are often some “stops” on the table: texting while driving, fried foods, or any number of bad habits you’d like to get rid of.

We also begin to look forward to how we will leverage our past success and identify ways to take new territory in those areas we’ve yet to achieve. Lots of us write New Year’s resolutions, which is just another term for a goal.

A goal without a plan, however, is just a dream. So one of the most helpful things I’ve discovered is to base those goals on something bigger. A vision of how I want to live my life – based on my values and beliefs.

Without a values based vision, I’ve meandered all over the self-help section of the bookstore and never really produced any lasting results. Where I’m going and how I get there needs to line up with who I am and what I believe.

I’ve created a brief booklet that contains the process for getting clear about my vision. I hope you will find it as helpful as I have. You will find the link below. Just download and start 2014 with a vision that’s focused and clear. And Happy New Year!

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD:   VISION STATEMENT TEMPLATE copy 2

CALLING ALL BOOK CLUB LOVERS!

Book Club Image copyI’ve recently added a couple of exciting new resources designed to help you get the most out of Related By Chance, Family By Choice. With book lovers in mind, it’s perfect for use book clubs, Bible studies or small group discussions. And if you are pressed for time and would like to go solo, it can help make your individual reading experience even more meaningful!

Under the tab “Resources” you will find two documents. The first is a guide for creating a book club or small group. It has information that will work with any book in addition to the discussion guide for Related. The second document is the discussion guide alone – perfect for all of you pros with experience in creating and running discussion groups and Bible studies.

I hope you’ll get a group together, or think about suggesting Related to your current group. If it’s local, I’d love to come for a Q & A session. If it’s somewhere out there, we can arrange a Skype connection.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions about using these resources! Happy reading!

It’s Never Too Late To Finish, And It’s Always Too Early To Quit!

By Deb DeArmond

Biblical Wisdom:

  • Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you. A prophet to the nations – that’s what I had in mind for you.” MSG
  • Romans 11:29: “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (He never withdraws the when once they are given and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call).” MSG

GPS is a wonderful invention. Because I travel so frequently, it’s often helped me recover from a wrong turn or a missed exit. I can always ‘get there from here’ with the help of the soft- spoken lady who gets me on track.

God is the original GPS. Regardless how far off His intended route we may wander, He will guide us to complete the journey He has in mind for us. Even though the journey may take longer than He had hoped, we will arrive at our destination if we keep our ears open for the guidance provided.

Many of us grew up with adults asking us the question, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” It was fun when I was five – “A dancer and actress and maybe a singer!”

By ten I had decided I would be a journalist. I believe it was more an effort to identify with my much older brother (who was a news man) than follow any real interest of my own. But I discovered that I enjoyed it. It came easily and my teachers said I was good at it. And it made me seem more grown up, too. A journalist was a real career. And by that age I think I had come to the realization that Hollywood was not really a place for a chubby kid with ‘too curly’ hair. One Shirley Temple seemed like enough.

By the time I was a senior in high school, the questions inquiring about my plans for the future made me feel anxious, uneasy. It also felt invasive, a bit nosy, to be honest. The truth was I had absolutely no idea how to respond because I had no clue what the answer was. Or what answer the adults who asked expected of me.

I graduated and made choices about what to do. I chose a college and a major, although I felt unclear about whether it was right or not. I wrote letters to my high school boyfriend every day at his selected college across the country and lived for the mail each day. I worked a part time retail job and hung out with my friends. And never once did I think about what God might have wanted me to do with my life.

A month before my 20th birthday, I married that high school sweetheart. It was the one thing of which I was absolutely certain. And 37 years and three sons later, I am still just as sure. The night before we graduated from high school, he led me to the Lord. Together we walked our life, learning together, leading our boys to love and trust Christ. We did music lessons and Little League, Sunday school and homework at the kitchen table. My husband and I built careers, each establishing a business of our own. Neither of us had finished school, yet God had provided opportunities well beyond our expectations.

And even though it was a life that had evolved without a real master plan, it was a good life. A great life. And I always felt blessed. My brother used to say my husband and I lived a charmed life – that he had never known a couple so incredibly lucky. We knew it was never luck. We knew it was the blessings of our heavenly Father. We were grateful beyond belief and although we had challenges as all families do, I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t happy.

It wasn’t until after my sons were grown and gone that I began to think about this scripture: “Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you. A prophet to the nations – that’s what I had in mind for you,” Jeremiah 1:5 (MSG).

Not until the nest was empty did I take a breath deep enough to consider the possibilities. What was it that He had sanctified me for? What was I ordained to do?

I began to seek God diligently, asking for that answer. I read scripture. I asked for input from my husband. I knew the answer was there, if I could just uncover it. I kept expecting a bolt of lightning to come from the sky. The good news is that He answered. But there was no flash-filled moment when I was struck with full understanding.

It came at an odd moment, as I was involved in an activity that I never guessed would provide me the answer I was seeking.

I lost my brother in 2010 after a 10-year fight with cardiac disease. He did as much as he could for as long as was possible. The 16-year age difference between us had not kept us from being close, and losing him was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I miss him every day. His wife asked me to speak at his memorial service; I said yes without hesitation. And although I had plenty of time to prepare my remarks, I arrived on the other coast, 2 days before the service with nothing but a blank sheet of paper.

Oddly, I wasn’t alarmed. I knew that somehow it would come. As I sat at the dining room table with my sister-in-law, I asked if she knew whether my brother had saved the cards and letters I had sent over the years. She was unsure, but went to his desk and looked through the drawers. They were there. Not all of them, but many from the past 20 years or so. It appeared that the ones that had meant the most to him were rubber banded together and tucked in the bottom drawer.

For the next couple of hours, I sat on the floor and read them. Some made me laugh. Others made me cry. It was a good afternoon. Out of the contents of that correspondence, the Lord began to weave the story I was supposed to tell to those who would come to honor the life of my dear Jack.

I got through it with only a moment or two when I had to pause to swallow hard. I shared moments of his life that they knew little of. When I took my seat at the end of my time at the podium, I felt a warm satisfaction. People were smiling through the tears. Later during the meal we all shared to celebrate Jack’s life, his friends and co-workers, most of whom I did not know, thanked me. “You made me laugh, you made me cry. But most of all, you made me glad I knew your brother.”

And there it was. I had written the words that God had given me and they had impacted people in a way I had not anticipated. Something about the way in which I had arranged letters on a page had meaning beyond anything I had ever imagined. I recognized in that moment: I am a writer. I am called to encourage, exhort and educate through my writing. My husband had told me so, many times, as did several friends. I had dismissed it, although I am unsure why. Perhaps it just wasn’t time yet.

What were you doing when you realized what you were meant to do? What was the dream or desire that you left behind to pursue the life that unfolded before you? What is the hope or the vision that God has shown you, even though it may seem fairly impossible at this point in your life?

It turns out that at age 10 when I decided to be a journalist, the pull of the Holy Spirit on my heart was presented, but for some reason, I had missed the significance. Thank you Lord for a second chance to hear you. I’m starting 40+ years later than you intended, so my commitment is to go all in to fulfill this call.

It is never too late to be what you were meant to become and it’s always too early to quit. “For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn,” Romans 11:29 (NLT). He never changes His mind about us or about His purpose for our life. It’s easy to tell ourselves we missed the moment, that the opportunity has passed. A year from now you may wish you’d started today. Don’t forget who you are. He certainly hasn’t.

So, what are you waiting for?