Making family time a priority

It is easy throughout the year, and even more so during the busy holiday season, to be preoccupied with getting your list of chores and tasks done that you forget to take the time to stop and really just enjoy your family.

The things that we don’t get accomplished during the weekday get pushed to the weekend. And before you know it the weekend is over, and the work/school week starts over.

But spending time as a family strengthens your bonds. It allows you to reconnect as a family. However, you can’t assume it will happen. Too often family time can fall through the cracks. You need to set aside specific time for family. Mark it down on your calendar and make it a priority.

Here are some suggestions of activities for family time.

Eating together

My husband is not a fan of eating at the table as a family. He liked it better when he and I just ate in front of the TV. But I know that eating together away from the distractions of TV and video games is good for our kids. It allows us to slow down and reconnect. It teaches the kids how to have a conversation with each other. Often we use family dinner time to share what happened in our day or talk about upcoming plans. (For tips on establishing family meal times, check out this website.)

Family Outings

Swimming with dolphins during our trip to Grand Cayman.

Swimming with dolphins during our trip to Grand Cayman.

Often, I go places with the kids when on summer or school breaks. We head to the children’s museum, the zoo, the park or the pool. But the times that I think mean the most to them are the ones in which my husband joins us. We don’t often go places with all four of us but every once in a while we go somewhere as a family – Six Flags Amusement Park, Comicon or bowling. And I know those memories stick with the kids as they often talk about them.

Family Vacations

My husband doesn’t always relish the thought of traveling with the kids but every year we plan a family trip. Sometimes it is just to the beach for a weekend, and sometimes it has been to Disney World or a cruise. These times are great for building memories (or pulling your hair out if you are my husband.)

Movie Night

For a while, we instituted a movie night. We rotated who picked the movie, but it was set that every Friday we would have pizza and watch a movie together. It worked for a little over a year but now the kids argue too much about which movie has been chosen that we have reduced movie time to monthly.

CIMG0693Not interested in watching a movie together? You might consider game night instead. Or even family gardening time or take a martial arts or archery class together. Even just a family walk after dinner can be a great way to get some exercise and spend time together.

The main thing is to remember to set aside some time and spend it with your family. Turn off the electronics, look up from your phone, ignore Facebook and just enjoy the moment with those you love.



Planning our next vacation (already!)

While driving back from the beach last month, I began talking to my husband about next year’s vacation. This year we went to Disney World. CIMG3203The beach has always been an annual June trip since my husband has a conference at South Padre Island each year. (That is going to change as next year the conference is moving to a new location.)

As soon as I mentioned a trip for next year, my husband sighed. “We haven’t even gotten back from this one!”

Of course, he wasn’t too surprised. I began planning our Disney World trip last year as we drove back from the beach. With Disney World a lot of planning really is involved – especially at least six months out if you want to attend certain activities or eat at a few select restaurants.

The thing is I like planning. It is almost as fun for me as the actual trip. Since Disney World was an expensive trip, we will do something cheaper next year. That means staying in Texas. Two years ago, we did Disney and then followed it up with a short trip last year to Corpus Christi. For next year, we are planning to go to Houston and Galveston (for the beach).

So I will spend a few evenings this month looking at activities in Houston and their related costs. I will check out hotel rates and locations. I won’t plan out the whole trip this early, but I do want to figure out how long of a trip we need to plan for and how much it will cost so we can save up for it.

Now next year is also my husband’s and my 20th wedding anniversary. We try to go on a trip every five years to mark our anniversary. It didn’t happen on our 10-year anniversary as Jase was born three weeks before the date. (We did celebrate 18 months afterwards with a trip to Disney World – but we took Jase with us so not really the same type of celebration.)

On our 15 year anniversary, we left the kids for three nights with my mom and went to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure in Orlando. (The original Harry Potter section had just opened three months before we went.) It was a nice short trip without the kids.

Now we are considering another trip without the kids. Where we will go, I am not sure. We talked about returning to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure as the new Harry Potter section opens this year. Or we could go back to Las Vegas which we haven’t been to in nine years. I suggested a short cruise, but my husband doesn’t love cruises like I do so that is probably out.

But with the Houston trip to plan and the desire to re-carpet the upstairs, our plan to go somewhere may just end up being an overnight trip to the Riverwalk. So that is why I am going to be spending a few days looking not only at our trip to Houston but possibly a longer trip for my husband and I to take. Knowing how much it will cost and how many days he will be away from work will allow us to have more options than if I waited until next year to plan these trips.

My friend’s cancer returns

In January of 2013, I wrote a blog about my friend Patty being diagnosed with breast cancer and having to talk to my kids about cancer and chemo. I am glad to say that everything went well. Patty had an awesome “I can beat this” attitude. She took everything in stride – even having a head-shaving party before her hair fell out due to the chemo.

My kids also took everything in stride – the hair loss, the occasional extra visits by their friends, and that they saw Patty less. (Of course seeing her less is easy when you typically only see her briefly 2-3 times a week.) Patty finished her chemo, had a mastectomy on one side and then did radiation. Everything went well and in September, she was declared cancer free. Her family celebrated by going to Disney World in October.

cancer2Then after Christmas, Patty began having really bad headaches. A trip to doctor didn’t help and was followed up by a trip to the ER and a visit to the neurologist. Both her CT scan and MRI showed nothing. Finally, on a second trip to the ER, they did a spinal tap to check for meningitis. While that is what they first said it was, Patty (by then admitted to the hospital) wasn’t feeling any better. They tested her spinal fluid and found cancer cells.

I looked up cancer cells in the spinal fluid on the Internet. I found only a few references to it, and none of the information was good. Patty and her husband (who hopefully didn’t research this on the Internet) are worried. Gone now is that “we can beat it” attitude. The day after the discovery of the cancer cells, Patty had a port put in her head and began chemo.

Right now, they are planning on doing chemo treatments for the next 4-6 months. The good news is that the cancer cells are all they found. There are no tumors. Whether this is significantly better or not, I don’t know.

I am worried about so many things. I am worried that Patty may not recover this time from cancer. It would be devastating for her kids. I can’t even imagine what would happen to the family with the loss of Patty and all the changes that would have to happen. I worry about them and of course, my own kids. This would be the first death my kids have had to experience and while they don’t see Patty often, they do see her husband, Bruce, and the twins all the time. I also worry about how Patty’s family is going to survive with Patty not working this month. She is the main bread winner of the family. Bruce stays home with the kids and has a part-time (under 25 hours a week) job doing inventory for one of the big-box stores. They can’t last long without her income. (Bruce has been missing a lot of work too.)

I guess only time will reveal what will happen next. If anyone knows anything about cancer cells in the spinal fluid – good or bad news – I would like to hear it. I would like to understand what is happening and what the chance of Patty pulling through this are. Until then, I will just pray for them and try to help out any way they will allow me to help. And I will be thankful that I am only having the cancer talk (again) with the kids so far.

Thanksgiving with the family…and I am thankful for that

thanksgivingLast year, I wrote about trying to divide up the holidays. (My in-laws had moved near us and we had traditionally been spending both holidays with my parents who already lived near by.) This year for a while I thought we might have trouble figuring out what to do on Thanksgiving. Both my family and my husband’s family have relatives in town this week.

My brother, his wife and her son have been planning their trip since August. They are driving in from Albuquerque after school gets out on Wednesday. They will be here through Saturday.

Then at the end of October, we found out my husband’s cousin, husband, and son would be in town for her older son’s graduation from Air Force basic training at Lackland AFB. This also means her parents (my husband’s aunt and uncle) will be coming into town. Luckily for us, they all have other relatives to stay with. And as it turns out, none of them expect to spend Thanksgiving with us.

And that is a good thing as I already had plans to be at my parents’ house as we have been for the past 10 years. This year will be slightly different. Instead of cooking a big dinner, my parents are picking up a pre-cooked turkey dinner from the local grocery store. As I post this, my mom will have been out of the hospital probably less than two weeks after having spent 20 days in ICU/PCU followed by about 21 days in rehabilitation after having complications from a tumor being removed from her skull back in August.  (Yes, it has been an interesting and stressful four months for all of us – particularly my mom, but she is doing awesome.)

So this year, I am just thankful to have my family around me. I am glad my mom is doing better and am glad I could witness the amount of strength she has to overcome everything that has happened. I am proud of my dad for always being there and supporting her. I am happy that my brother will finally be here for a visit and is bringing his wife and her son who I am still getting to know.

And how can I not be thankful for my wonderful kids – Lexie and Jase. They bring such joy, excitement and yes, even frustration into my life. I am thankful that we have the means to have some great animals as part of our family. I am especially happy that we added puppy Sadie Rose to our family in October, though I am still not sure the cats like that decision.

And before he thinks I left him out – I am thankful for my husband. He had the courage to start his own business recently and through the ups and downs of that new business, he has always provided for his family. I love that he is willing to work so hard so I can stay at home and raise our two kids. I also am grateful that he puts up with all my obsessing and planning – especially in regards to our upcoming trip to Disney World. Thank you, dear!

Trying to decide what’s for dinner

“I’m not going to eat that!”

“I don’t like that!”

Yep, I hear this out of both kids quite a bit. If my husband feels the same way, he at least never says it out loud.  Finding a meal that pleases everyone is almost I think the only one they agree on is homemade pizza and even then I still have to customize it to everyone’s taste. (Sausage for everyone but Lexie and onions, peppers and mushrooms added for me.)

I sometimes dread deciding what to cook for dinner. I usually plan our meals two weeks out. I don’t decide necessarily what to have each day but just meals that I plan to make so that I can have the ingredients on hand when it comes time to make them. This list stops me from staring in the freezer trying to decide what to cook.

Now while making a list of meals does help, the hard part is actually coming up with the list. For a while, I really struggled with it and felt like we were having the same things over and over. I ended up putting the name of all my recipes into an Excel spreadsheet. It is broken down by what type of meat is used. Next to each recipe, I list the cookbook/page, how long it takes to make and other notes such as it freezes well.

But having the list, doesn’t stop the constant worry about who will actually like what I am making. It seems no one in my family likes the same thing…Jase loves pasta casseroles, but those aren’t my husband’s favorite. Lexie doesn’t eat beef but is fine with chicken, and my husband is a meat-and-potatoes type guy.

And then the kids’ tastes keep changing. While Lexie used to love beans, now she rarely will eat them. Jase used to love this chicken dish I make and now won’t eat it. There really no way to please everyone – unless it is pizza night.

It is a challenge to cook for this group and while I try to offer things that the majority likes, there is typically someone not happy with what I am serving. My mother-in-law use to make separate meals for her family to please everyone. I refuse to do that. This isn’t a restaurant after all. Sometimes I will make some mashed potatoes for Lexie since that is her favorite but basically, my rule is if you don’t like dinner, have a bowl of cereal or a hot dog. (Jase will eat the hot dogs but Lexie thinks hot dogs are gross.)

Sigh…now to decide what is for dinner and wonder who will be complaining that they don’t like what I made.