Family Dinner Nights – The Perfect Grandparent Gift

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-10-37-28-pmBlack Friday and Cyber Monday have passed. Nearly all the world has been on sale during the past week. But I’m guessing that some of you still have people on your list that you can’t find the perfect gift for. Look no further.

If you are searching for a meaningful, inexpensive yet very rich present for your loved ones I’ve got you covered.

Every year I struggle for what to get my grandparents for Christmas. My limited Christmas budget never stretches as far as I would like it to and they have absolutely everything they could ever need or want. So most years I end up making my grandma a small Christmas trinket or getting my grandpa something Dallas Cowboys related – until last year.

That’s when I had a stroke of genius.

Instead of searching the bargain bins at Wal-Mart and scanning through the clearance section on Amazon, I started searching online for meaningful gift ideas. I ran across a blog that mentioned family dinners.

Jackpot.

I love visiting my grandparents. They live an hour away so any time we make a trip there we like to stay for several hours. Usually that means we are there during a mealtime.

I hate making them feel obligated to feed us – even though my grandma makes the best Swedish meatballs and has delicious frozen corn from her garden. It’s a lot of work to add a family of six to the menu.

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My little ones can’t get enough of my grandma. I love that they get to experience her selfless love in a similar way that I did. She is amazing.

So for Christmas last year we printed out and gave my grandparents twelve family dinner coupon cards – one for each month. Each coupon could be redeemed for a home-cooked meal with our family.

We have spent the year preparing simple meals and taking them with us, along with paper plates and utensils, while we spent quality time with my grandparents.

The dinners have been mediocre, the company and time spent afterward has been splendid.

It has been so rewarding, so fun.

We have giggled until breathless after dinner while watching America’s Funniest Home Videos together. We have shouted when one of us lost in the dice game of House of Fire. We have eaten Otter Pops on the back porch and swung back and forth in the backyard swings.

We have snuggled in next to grandma and grandpa and watched Disney movies. We have listened to and recorded some of the stories that have made my grandma and grandpa who they are today.

We have absolutely LOVED spending more time with them.

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We love spending family dinners with my amazing grandparents. It has been so fun.

I’m not sure how they feel about our monthly dinners, but our family cherishes the time.

We gave the same gift to Travis’s grandpa.

My kids love sneaking M&Ms from his candy stash and when he offers them a soda pop from his storage room they think they have died and gone to heaven.

My youngest two giggle when he tickles them and tease him by running away. You should see the card towers my kids have learned to build while listening to grandpa’s stories. They love hearing what it was like growing up near the Boston Red Sox and they can’t get enough of his police force tales.

My husband’s grandma was an amazing cook, so I’m not sure he’ll ever look forward to the food we bring, but we look forward to eating with him.

This fall when we were spending the evening there I noticed the family dinner coupons were stacked neatly in the center of the dining table. He had carefully written dates on each one – the days that we came and redeemed the coupons.

It made me smile to think that he was keeping track. Maybe he really did look forward to it – possibly not the food, but at least the company.

The more we spend time with our grandparents, the more we don’t ever want to leave. Our family has become crazy busy these days, but I have thanked the lucky stars that we started this tradition. We have had the best time with some of our favorite people this year. I only wish we could do it more often.

Which is why we are going to give them the same thing this year – twelve family dinner coupons. If you are interested in doing the same for someone you love feel free to copy off some of the coupons found in this file. I promise you won’t regret it. I will never regret spending more time with the people I love. Never.

My Grouchy Heart is Thankful

20160721_181432I’m writing this in a terribly grouchy mood on Thanksgiving Eve. Why am I grouchy? I really can’t say. I’ve spent the day with my kids. I worked on several projects around the house. I even snuck in eating some chocolate chip cookie dough and no one noticed – so I didn’t have to share!

But I’m grouchy.

And that makes me embarrassed.

I have way too many blessings in my life to walk around in grumpy pants.

So I’m going to do what I do every year on the eve of my least favorite holiday. I’m going to write a short list of the things I’m thankful for. Maybe that will transform my mood.

First, I am thankful for my family. I have five beautiful, beautiful children. They make me laugh, they make me cry and they drive me absolutely insane. But I love them with all my heart.

I have an amazingly supportive husband. He lets me run around the house from project to project and often has to finish when I get in over my head. He calms me down when I’m acting crazy and he lets me laugh/cry when I haven’t had enough sleep. Which is pretty much all the time. And if you don’t know what laugh/crying is, I’ll call you next time I’m having a fit.

I am thankful that I got to spend an entire month in a beautiful foreign country with my favorite people. Seriously, who gets to do that? We spent day after day together exploring Italy and it’s rich culture and history. It was crazy, it was hard, it was fun, it was amazing.

But leaving America made me realize how thankful I am for the land of the free. There are so many things here that I’m thankful for. I’ll name two – seedless grapes and free public restrooms that have toilet seats. Two things that were very difficult to find in Rome.

I’m thankful that the tree house is finished. My husband and kids slept in there Tuesday night. It was cold, but so much fun. I can never be thankful enough for all the friends, family and police officers that supported us through all of that.

I’m thankful for my college education. Although I choose to live the stay-at-home mom life, I am so grateful for all the things I learned while in school.

I’m thankful that we have the ability for me to stay home.

I’m thankful that my husband works hard for our family and has a great job he enjoys.

I’m thankful that my kids have forgiving hearts. Because I am going to have to ask for their forgiveness on being such a grouchy person – tonight and on many other occasions.

I’m thankful for gelato. I’m thankful for music. I’m thankful for my puppy – yes we have come a long way me and Fia.

I am thankful for so many more things but I want to include one more thing on my list this year – technology.

I am thankful that I can call, chat, text or video message friends and family thousands of miles away. I am thankful I can keep up with friends and family across the world through pictures and posts online.

I am thankful for my Google calendar that helps me stay on track. I’m thankful for my electronic grocery list. I am thankful for my digital checkbook app. I’m thankful that my TV remote is on my cell phone. The list goes on and on. Finally, I am thankful for online shopping. And so I leave you to go surf the web. I’m hoping to snag a big black Friday purchase online in less than an hour.

Thankfully I can do it in my pajamas in the comfort of my living room.

Incomplete

braceletThe bottom half of my “H” fell off. My “H” – the fifth and last letter on the pearl bracelet that someone gave me when Luca died. The necklace has tiny metal angels and shiny letters that spell “F-A-I-T-H” on it.

I have worn the bracelet a handful of times on special occasions. It’s a beautiful way for me to remember my angel son during important events in our family.

So I put it on last week when we were walking out the door to get our family pictures taken.

We were all in the center of the studio waiting for the photographer to switch cameras when I heard something ping to the floor. My boys and I crawled around looking for what fell.

My 10-year-old found half of my “H.” I snatched it up and tucked it in my husband’s pocket. My poor little bracelet.

Many of you know that I LOVE pictures and photography. I’m always snapping pictures wherever I go. My kids have all been trained from birth to smile for the camera. I love printing pictures. I love seeing what we all looked like in years past. I love beautiful photos hanging on my wall.

But I don’t love one thing about pictures – family pictures to be specific. I don’t love that we will never have a completed picture of our family.

Because our little Luca was stillborn six years ago, long before the last two of our kids were born, we will never have a full picture of our family. For some people that might not be such a big deal. For me, it hurts my heart.

So every time I pick out outfits and stress over what color tights or shoes to wear – thank heavens for my mom and sister who helped me out this time – I get a lump in my throat and a bittersweet excitement. We are going to get pictures taken! But we aren’t ALL going to get pictures taken.

We have a beautiful photo of Luca and a sweet bright green frog that we bring along to represent our baby brother in the pictures. And I have my bracelet that I wear.

The bracelet that is now incomplete. Kind of like our family.

When I heard that little metal piece drop to the floor it reminded me of my angel son. It was a sweet reminder during a crazy get-ready-for-pictures-and-smile-or-I-will-spank-your-butt sort of afternoon.

I’m not certain how it broke or why. I very rarely wear it – it sits in a black velvet bag inside a “Luca” box in my closet. So I know it hasn’t been used and abused.

But I know it helped me think harder about him during our family photo session.

Maybe he popped off the piece and flung it to the floor. Maybe he wanted me to know that he’s still with me.

That he will always be with me. Even if he isn’t pictured.

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I Quit and I’m Not Sorry

dsc_0304Well I did it again. I quit something.

Why?

Because I have mountains of clothes to wash, dishes overflowing in my sink, I sometimes go days without showering and there is a constant need to vacuum over here. Like constantly.

So I quit.

I stopped teaching my boys piano lessons.

We tried. We spent two years pounding the ivories and arguing about practicing. (I think we’ve had one official lesson the entire first six months of the year.)

It was too hard.

Too hard to get my boys to focus.

Too hard to keep the little ones at bay.

Too hard to nag them every single day.

I couldn’t handle the pressure. So I let it go.

And then I gave it to someone else.

I signed them up for piano lessons from our neighbor. She is amazing.

They started one month ago and they are secretly loving it. Each of them has started writing his own song and they’ve put a mini recorder in by the music stand so they can record what they play and listen to it over and over while they perfect their masterpieces.

They have started plunking out the notes to their favorite songs from the radio and I have heard them singing along to the Christmas songs they are learning.

It is music to my ears.

And so I’m letting go completely. Forget that I taught piano lessons for years while putting myself through college. Forget that I COULD have kept teaching them. I’m tossing the mom guilt out the window on this one.

I’m going to happily admit that I was failing big time on motivating my boys to learn and grow musically. I’m going to admit that it was too much for me to take on. I’m going to admit that I am relishing their music instead of stressing that I’m not teaching them enough. It’s out of my hands now.

Thank heavens. Now all that’s left for me to do is sit back and listen to the music.

Clemens for President 2044

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This is just one of many memes my children have copied to my computer desktop that reference Donald or his hair.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that it’s election time. Normally I love tuning in to debates, researching candidates and brushing up on current issues, but this one has been a doozy.

I feel like it has been more entertaining than educational. I’ve had a hard time taking it seriously – mostly because I’ve chosen to laugh instead of cry.

Through all of the shenanigans, the ups and downs, the last-minute surprises, I have kept a watchful eye on my children. There have been numerous teaching moments during this campaign. We’ve had many conversations on ethics, respect, acceptance, appropriateness and honesty. I think we could all stand to learn something from looking at the candidates through a child’s eyes.

But despite the heavy stuff, there have also been some really funny moments during this campaign.

I can’t tell you how many times my kids have asked me about Hillary’s emails and you wouldn’t believe how many strange aquatic creatures look like Donald Trump or his hair.

I wish you could have heard my 2-year-old the night she impersonated Trump. And my boys’ “Bernie,” chants keep ringing in my ears.

We’ve laughed at Saturday Night Live skits together and we’ve joked about building a border-control wall in our own back yard. (For a while we were kind of serious about this.)

Good or bad, funny or serious, my kids have been listening and watching. We’ve learned a lot about the candidates and we’ve felt nervous about the future of this country.

My oldest two have picked up on the disgust resonating with voters.

They know that things are bad.

But they have hope. Hope that things could get better.

It’s this hope that keeps me from stressing out about who is going to win and what their first actions in office will be. Their hope instills in me peace because I know that they are the future. They can make a difference someday.

And hopefully they will.

The current election has increased my 8-year-old’s aspirations for his own presidential run someday. (He already has his cousins convinced that he is the Clemens running for congress in Utah. You should have seen their amazement when they were sitting together and an anti-Rob Bishop ad came on. How did he do that? lol.)

He is determined to change the world. He’s started mapping out his career and moving to California to become governor there is at the top of his list.

So I guess if I have gotten nothing positive out of this grueling and tiresome election at least my children have.

Hopefully that means we will have better candidate options in 2044.

Why Living in Europe Made Me Want to Get Rid of All My Stuff

20160719_112330We took our family of six to Italy this summer for one month. Somehow I managed to pack everything we needed for that month (minus food) into four suitcases and three small carry on bags.

It was amazing.

I searched online for packing tips. I read about space-saving advice for traveling with kids. Then we shoved all the stuff we needed into our bags, zipped them up and headed to the airport. I worried it wouldn’t be enough.

But it was.

There were a few times while we were there that we took weekend trips to other cities. We would tuck EVERYTHING we needed for those trips into a giant mountain climbing bag and two mini backpacks. And it was enough.

It was amazing.

While we were overseas we rented an apartment in Rome. We didn’t have all our toys. We didn’t have all our books. We didn’t have all our decorations or DVDs. We couldn’t bring the four pillows I sleep with every night and we had to leave my rolling hair curlers behind.

We lived on the bare minimum.

And it was liberating.

I have officially gone from someone who took four bags to a weekend trip to her grandma’s house in high school to someone who needed a little more than that much for a month-long trip with four kids and a husband.

And now I want to get rid of everything.

Why do we have so much STUFF??

The people we visited in Italy didn’t have that much. They didn’t have great big houses with storage rooms and above-the-garage shelves. So why do I? We lived for one month with the bare essentials so why do I need much more than that?

I’ve been purging and getting rid of stuff ever since we got back. I started in my bathroom by trashing stuff I’ve kept in there for years but haven’t needed.

Last week I purged our dressers. Thanks to an IKEA recall we had to replace all five of our chests of drawers. So we have had clothes spread all over the place while we have been waiting for new dressers.

It was a good time to get rid of stuff. I set out a pile to donate, a pile to trash and a pile to keep.

We’ve been swimming in clothes lately and it’s still a mess but it has felt great to make more space and only keep the essentials.

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I’m going to make a wave through my house and start eliminating more extras that we don’t need. I’ll keep the decorations and a few totes of baby clothes, but I’m going got let go of a lot of other things.

Many of you are probably already doing this on a regular basis. But it took me living in a country 5,000 miles away to realize it was all right to get rid of stuff. Well, most stuff. I’m still going to hang on to my four pillows.

Painful Flashbacks

It was late at night as we headed to the hospital. I called my mom to sit with my kids. We drove in the dark to the emergency room. We walked in and told them what was happening. It felt hauntingly like the last time.

But thank heavens there was no tragedy this week.

We were only there to fix my son’s right thumb – he got a fishing hook stuck deep into his flesh.

This time I wasn’t going to have to hear that my unborn baby had died.

I couldn’t help having flashbacks Monday night as my husband and I took a trip to the ER. I was taken back six and a half years to when we headed there April 22, 2010.

That’s when, in the early, early, morning hours, we found out that our little Luca had died; and that I would have to deliver him stillborn.

The human mind amazes me. Some things it won’t let me remember, others it won’t let me forget. Then some forgotten things resurface at the most peculiar times. That’s when I remember things I thought I had forgotten.

Like how dark, cold and lonely it felt in the middle of the night driving to the hospital to be checked with Luca.

Like how terrible I felt calling my mom to come sit with my kids when I knew she needed her sleep.

Like the look and feeling I got from the nurses when I told them I thought something was wrong.

All of that, and more, washed over me as I sat in the emergency room waiting room this week.

I’ve been melancholy ever since. Did that all really happen? Did I have to say goodbye to my baby boy?

Losing a child has forever changed me. The farther away I get from his loss, the more I realize I will never be far enough.

No matter how well I’m doing, no matter how much I have to look forward to in life, deep down there will always be an immense heartache that is constantly healing inside my heart. And sometimes that heartache will pop back up and surprise me.

Sometimes when I least expect it.

 

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