Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Inward - Pressing Onward to a New Year

On any given day without any real effort at all, you can find out what's going on with any church, ministry, movement, evangelical leader or denomination. All the good, bad and ugly is online for anyone to read, comment on, or write about. In Christian circles, this kind of news spreads fast. Twitter, facebook, blogs & email make it nearly impossible to miss the latest news about this megachurch ministry begging for more money, or that pastor caught doing something he shouldn't have been doing, or just about anything else you can think of. It seems the focus and the interest in what's going on in the lives of other people (whether good or bad) is rather high.

What about your own church though? Do you know as much about the inner workings of your own church, as you do about the big name ministries? I'm hoping most reading this would be able to say yes, but maybe not.

What about your own relationship with your Savior? Do you invest as much time into your own spiritual health as you might reading about what's going on with this ministry or that movement? Again, I would hope that most Christians reading this would be able to say yes, but again, maybe not. Lest anyone suspect me of finger pointing here, please be assured these questions apply to me as much as they apply to anyone else. I'm not at all proud to admit how easy it is to be distracted and discuss other people, over and above looking inward and asking yourself the same hard questions you might feel like putting to others. I think it's fairly common to set a standard for others and expect them to meet it (and often rip them up when they don't), in favor of putting ourselves on that same standard level.

Several years ago I read something by Don Whitney that addressed looking inward and asking yourself some really good questions. He wrote:

"Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It's so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we're going and where we should be going. The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings." (source)

When I first read his list of questions, I was so convicted, challenged and encouraged. I blogged it at the time, and gave some of my own answers to those questions. It was interesting to take a look at that post from over 4 years ago and see how I answered then, and how my answers may be different (or the same) today. When I first posted that, I did so as a blog meme, and since then I've seen that meme as a repost on several blogs. It's always encouraging to see that because it says to me that my fellow believers are concerned with their own spiritual health, the way we all should be.

I would greatly encourage you to go and prayerfully consider Don Whitney's questions, and as we begin a new year, may the Lord richly bless you with a newfound joy in your salvation, and a rekindled awe of His mercy and grace in your life.

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Here a Gizmo There a Gizmo

I've been meaning to blog a few things over the last week but it's just been so hectic around my house I don't seem to have the quiet time to think and write. So instead of that, I'll just toss out some Carla Style Miscellaneous stuff:

Ten years ago for Christmas Kev bought me a really nice computer chair. Compared to what I had at the time, it was top of the line. For the past 10 years I've sat in that chair to chat, blog, design, email, do the banking, and every other thing most folks do in a computer chair. It certainly served me well, but about a month ago it started to really let me know it was time to replace it. I was sitting here when all of a sudden the little handle that raises or lowers the seat gave out and down I went. It was actually kind of funny, but the more it happened the more annoying it became. Kev put a clamp on it to stop it from doing that, but then the seat itself began to sort of come loose from the bolts and wobble here and there making me wonder if the next time I leaned back too far if it was going to literally dump me into the floor. Its kind of striking how it was in perfect working condition until almost 10 years to the day it was first assembled, and then once it started to fall apart, it did so quite rapidly.

Imagine my surprise then, Christmas morning when I opened a great big box from Jessica and Joost (I knew what it was, it was the only thing I wanted that would require a box that big) that had the words "bonded leather managers chair" on the side of it. Kev and Joost worked to put it together for me after all the gifts were opened and breakfast was consumed. It's the most awesome computer chair I have ever sat in. With a real high back and padded leather arms, its like the Rolls Royce of computer chairs, and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to sit in such comfort.

Since Christmas when all the kids (big and small) opened their gifts, it really hit me what an electronic age we live in. From Nintendo DS to mp3 players digital photo frames and xbox games, it seems thats where everything is headed. While they're all fun and I certainly enjoy the electronics I have as well, there's a nagging voice in the back of my mind that says something along the lines of "but what when the power goes out?" I have no real reason to think society is going to be plunged into some kind of long term electronic outage like in a thriller/sci-fi type of movie, but I do wonder if we're not relying on electronics far too much. I have a dear friend who had a computer crash recently and lost her entire address book. Now of course we all know keeping back ups and copies and all that is important, but back ups can fail as well. I have never used an electronic address book, but instead keep all my important addresses in an old fashioned paper address book that requires little more than a pen or pencil to edit.

Even while I say that, I plan on finally taking the plunge and getting a cell phone in the next couple of weeks. It's important to me to be able to be reached by those who might need to reach me, and with living where dial up is our only online option and having 5 people share that line (I have my own dedicated line) it's nearly impossible for anyone to ever get through. A pay as you go cell phone is the perfect solution to this. However, just doing the research before buying one makes me realize just how quickly technology has zipped right past me and left me in the dust. In the mid 90's I was the only one in my family to own a computer, and friends and family would come to me with questions about how these things work and I knew all the answers. Now, I have to ask my own kids how so many things work, since the technology so readily available far surpasses anything I can even understand. Funny how that all worked out.

And to think, even with that nagging voice in the back of my head saying to be cautious of over-dependency on technology for practical and entertainment purposes, I think I really need Guitar Hero for xbox. My daughter and soon to be son in law brought theirs out for us to play with Christmas day, and I discovered I REALLY LOVE THAT GAME. I can imagine it would easily become addictive as one tries to become better and better at it to eventually move to expert level. I played for a couple of hours and barely got the hang of beginner!

In any event, it was a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas, even with all the gadgets and gizmos and whatnot.

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Silly People Doing Silly Things

We had a full house, and a real good time with our gag gif exchange and Christmas day celebration. Here's a slideshow of a few shots from a very Rolfe Christmas:

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Yesterday one of my daughters called me a tradition nazi. I must confess, the accusation is as true as the day is long. I love family traditions and as long as I have breath in my body, we will carry on our family traditions, even if means my kids will call me names. They love our traditions as much as I do, they just like to tease me. I have no idea where they received the smart alec gene. It's a genuine mystery.

In any case, after a long day of baking and cooking today with Bing Crosby singing Christmas songs for me via the cd player in the kitchen (our big Christmas dinner is tomorrow!), we all grabbed our coats and boots, and went into town to look at Christmas lights, grab a hot chocolate and ooooh and ahhh at the pretty displays. I don't have a very good camera for night photography, but here is some of what we saw this evening:

(Ontario law - you cannot view Christmas lights without a Timmies hot chocolate!)

For our family, the crazy, noisy, happy, festive wonderful joy of Christmas begins tomorrow as I get up and begin preparing the annual Christmas eve feast. All my kids and their significant others, my adorable grand daughters, my mother in law and sister in law will all be here by the time the turkey comes out of the roaster. Dinner will be consumed, it will be nearly impossible to keep sneaky fingers off the dessert table, and then the family gag gift exchange will begin. When that's over the oldest three girls will go home (most to return Christmas morning for breakfast), and we'll watch A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim. The little ones will go to bed (with visions of mom's fudge, dancing in their heads) and the gifts will be placed under the tree and all the stockings filled. The adults will be exhausted but with an anxious and wonderful anticipation of seeing the kids faces Christmas morning. Its the same routine every year and I never tire of it. Kev and I exchanged emails yesterday while he was at work, giggling and anticipating the craziness of it all, just as if we were kids ourselves.

I still have 2 bacon quiches to get in the oven, and then I will relax a little before it all begins tomorrow morning.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, and most blessed and joyous New Year!

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Bronx Declaration, you say?

Now here is a declaration any right thinking Christian can feel good about signing, without any compromise at all.

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Twitter Mom: It Could Be Me

You may or may not have heard or read about this, but just last week the big splashy headlines screamed out another controversy by saying things like "Twitter Mom Tweets While Son Drowns in Family Pool". Of course, that's not what actually happened, and not in the way that it happened, but headlines are supposed to shock you enough that you read the story and ones like this seem to really do the trick, don't they? Of course the story I refer to is that of Shellie Ross, known on twitter as Military Mom. You can read about her tragic story at any online news outlet.

When I read the story, my heart just broke for this mom and this family. When I read the details of what happened and how it happened, it hit so close to home I felt rather uncomfortable. When I read (at one source) the comments being posted I felt absolutely enraged at the collective ignorance and judgemental attitudes. The more I thought about it, the more defensive I felt and wanted to take a moment to stand up for all twitter/blogger moms out there. There are A LOT of us, and what happened to Shellie Ross could have very (VERY) easily happened to any one of us.

Now, I don't know this family and I wasn't there, so I can't honestly speak to any of that. What I can do however is give a little picture of the reality of being a mom who is also online. I've been a mom for 27 years and been online for 16 of those years, so I think I have a little experience with juggling the two. Or, maybe it's blending, or balancing - not sure.

I will set aside the whole idea that mothers should never be online in the first place while their kids are young, because quite frankly I don't think it's realistic at all. The internet and all its ease of communication is today's version of the telephone, times 100. Yes there are definitely far more distractions than a simple telephone, but it IS the way the vast majority of the population communicates these days and to expect a mom to avoid it is simply unrealistic. So, that subject can just be left over there on the shelf.

In this particular case, a lot of the criticism was leveled at the mom for tweeting while the tragedy was occuring and thereby neglecting her son and leaving him unsupervised. Further, after she realized what had happened she tweeted again (asking for prayer) and that also upset a lot of people.

From what I've been able to gather, the way it really went down was a situation far more common in just about every home. The mother, reasonably assuming her son was safe, tweeted about the fog rolling in and needing to get some work done outside before it got too thick. What she did not know was that at just about the same time she posted that, the accident was occuring. I can only imagine her horror at realizing what was happening and then her painful desperation moments later when she tweeted again from the hospital asking her followers to pray.

Being a mom for as long as I have been, I know first hand just how easy it is for your kids to get hurt when you genuinely think they're safe. You could be doing the dishes, sorting the laundry, making dinner, blogging, tweeting, chatting online, taking a shower or any number of things at home and before you know it your child is in grave danger. I will never forget the morning I stepped out of the shower to the sound of screams coming from my oldest daughter's bedroom. Not quite two years old at the time, when I turned the corner and found her laying on her floor my blood ran cold. I didn't piece it all together until later in the ER while she was getting her arm in a soft cast, but while I was in the shower she decided to jump from her bedroom chair onto her bed. She missed the bed and hit the bedrail with her arm and fractured it. Another time, I was puttering around the house one late summer day, when I was about to lay down for a little rest in the afternoon. The younger kids were all together outside playing and my teenager was to keep an eye on them while I had a rest. Just as I was about to sit down, my 4 yr old son let out a blood curdling scream from the yard. He made it into the kitchen the same time I did from the other part of the house. Between trying to calm him down, getting a bucket full of ice and calling 911 and keeping calm myself, I learned that he'd gone out to the barn where the workers had lit a fire, and he'd stepped (barefoot) in a smoldering pile of trash, and burnt his foot.

These are just two examples I can share of situations where moms are home, assume the kids are safe, and within mere moments the kids are in a tragic situation that you never even imagined could have happened. While I wasn't on twitter at the time tweeting about some unimportant thing, I certainly could have been and would have had no idea what was about to take place. I recall last winter how many times I tweeted about going back out to shovel MORE snow. I could have easily tweeted that any number of times and 5 seconds later discovered one of my kids had been hurt. Stay at home moms do not follow their kids around the house and the yard watching them 24 hours a day. Sometimes we reasonably assume they're fine, and safe, playing in their rooms, with an older sibling, playing on the swing or in the kitchen up to the table coloring. Even with that, it only takes seconds for a child to get hurt, and I think every logical thinking adult knows that. No, moms and moms online do not watch their kids 24 hours a day, and it's not even realistic to assume we do. No parent does that, even if they're not online. Of course we make every effort to supervise them, check on them and stay aware of what they're doing, but even with that accidents happen.

Sometimes... we even go to the bathroom by ourselves.

For anyone to automatically assume you're an irresponsible, neglectful parent because you're online and your kids get hurt, is rather ridiculous. Granted, there are irresponsible parents out there but the truth of the matter is, kids get hurt all the time, even when the parent is standing RIGHT there, for crying out loud. I can't imagine a parent out there that couldn't relate to that. While some parents (and stay at home moms especially) might spend a little too much time online (or with any other hobby or interest - lets be honest folks, who cannot relate to that one?), that also does not automatically mean you're this horrible person who neglects their children.

The other part of the criticism that really upset me, was the verbal bombing of this poor woman because she tweeted again and asked for prayer. Several commenters on one site were saying the same thing, along the lines of "how can she be on twitter when her son just drowned!?" Good grief, I ask you, isn't that the ULTIMATE use of realtime, mass communication like twitter? How many reading this saw the urgent prayer requests for Matt Chandler when he recently learned he had a brain tumor, and how many of you retweeted that news, immediately? I mean sure we can all tweet about sports, tv shows, snowstorms or whatever, but when it comes right down to it, one of the best uses for such social networking sites like twitter is to post such prayer needs and be assured that your followers WILL pray. Now you or I might not immediately turn to twitter and post a prayer request after such a tragic situation, but it makes perfect sense to me that a lot of people would, and a lot of people do. I commented a few days ago that twitter (and sites like it) are this generations version of the telephone. Where 10 or 20 years ago someone might call a friend or their pastor or a prayer chain and put in an urgent prayer need, today a lot of people post it right to twitter or FB or other places where they know their friends, family, church family and online aquaintances will take that prayer need seriously and spread the news of your need. It's most certainly a lot easier than making 10 or 20 phone calls and repeating the upsetting news over and over.

It was really frustrating to see the mixed reaction to this news story. Folks jumped to all kinds of conclusions and even retweeted the controversial headlines, but as I read more about it I just kept thinking "wow, this SO could have been me". It could have been just about any mom at home, online, with young kids. Instead of demonizing the poor woman for being on twitter, I think the best reaction is to pray for her family's comfort as they deal with the loss of their precious little boy.

I can only hope that might be the reaction of folks if it were me, instead of her.

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Friday, December 18, 2009

Haloscan Out - Echo In

This morning I switched from haloscan commenting to echo commenting. I don't have time right now to fine tune it the way I want it, so I hope it's not too buggy for those who like to leave comments.

Let me know what you think? I'll try to make it nice and shiney later on today.

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Cookie Rules

My mother in law Norma makes the best, most incredible shortbread cookies every Christmas. I'm not sure how many dozens she makes, but I know they disappear so quickly that it never seems like she made enough! No surprise then that the following list of Christmas cookie rules came from her in an email yesterday. Enjoy!

Christmas Cookie Rules

• If you eat a Christmas cookie fresh out of the oven, it has no calories because everyone knows that the first cookie is the test and thus calorie free.

• If you drink a diet soda after eating your second cookie, it also has no calories because the diet soda cancels out the cookie calories.

• If a friend comes over while you're making your Christmas cookies and needs to sample, you must sample with your friend. Because your friend's first cookie is calorie free, (rule #1) yours is also. It would be rude to let your friend sample alone and, being the friend that you are, that makes your cookie calorie free.

• Any cookie calories consumed while walking around will fall to your feet and eventually fall off as you move. This is due to gravity and the density of the caloric mass.

• Any calories consumed during the frosting of the Christmas cookies will be used up because it takes many calories to lick excess frosting from a knife without cutting your tongue.

• Cookies colored red or green have very few calories. Red ones have three and green ones have five - one calorie for each letter. Make more red ones!

• Cookies eaten while watching "Miracle on 34th Street" have no calories because they are part of the entertainment package and not part of one's personal fuel.

• As always, cookie pieces contain no calories because the process of breaking causes calorie leakage...

• Any cookies consumed from someone else's plate have no calories since the calories rightfully belong to the other person and will cling to their plate. We all know how calories like to CLING!

• Any cookies consumed while feeling stressed have no calories because cookies used for medicinal purposes NEVER have calories. It's a rule!

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Tired of Internet Exploder?

Internet Exploder t-shirts

Just for fun, Internet Exploder t-shirts & gifts.

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It Was a Good Day

I meant to write about this yesterday, but before I knew it the day was gone and that was that. Even though we officially celebrated my birthday last Saturday when everyone was off work, my real 45th birthday was yesterday.

Kev came home from the night shift and brought me a Happy Birthday muffin (fruit explosion no less, and yes, it was insanely yummy) and an extra large cafe mocha. He put a candle in the muffin, lit it, and him and the kids sang happy birthday to me at 7:45 in the morning.

It was a pretty great way to start the day. I put my birthday roast in the oven a little later, then I sat and listened to Kasey Kasem's original top 40 countdown from the 1970s on my local classic rock station. I listen to it every Saturday, and this week the countdown was from December 16, 1972. The saturday that show aired the first time, I had just turned 8 years old a few days prior, and quite likely listened to it that very day. Kev and I have a lot of discussions it would seem, about the kind of staying power and influence music of the early 70s seems to have. For me, it was the background music of my childhood and will forever be the music of "the innocent years". If I had to pick one song to sum it all up it would likely be impossible. Seals and Crofts Summer Breeze and Drift Away by Dobie Gray are definitely the top two in that area. However, Chicago and James Taylor make it really hard to settle on a #1 song. There is just something about that music...

In any event, while I sat and listened to the countdown I chatted with some of the most awesome people in the world in #pros, and alternately designed this new line of business card templates, checked on the kids playing outside, did some laundry, mopped a few floors, and just thoroughly enjoyed the day. Later, we smashed the smithereens out of a couple of candy canes and sprinkled them on top of chocolate ice cream with hot fudge sauce, for my birthday dessert.

I have to admit, it feels weird in some way turning 45. I can't really put my finger on the why, but it just does. It might have something to do with the idea that when I was younger, 45 seemed REALLY old. Now that I'm here, I wonder where all that time went and how in the world I became 45. In any case, it was a really good day as days go, and as 45th birthdays go, I don't think I could have planned a better one if I tried.

It's been a tremendously blessed 45 years. I do hope I get another 45, just as blessed.

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fellowship Matters (or... does it?)

This is a subject that seems to come up quite frequently in conversations online and off. I'm not sure what the proper term for it might be called, but I've heard it called seperation, secondary seperation, guilt by association, and all sorts of other things. Essentially what it boils down to is one really important question:

Does it matter who you associate with?

Every time this subject comes up, someone will inevitably respond with "Jesus hung out with prostitues!" to sort of defend the idea that it doesn't matter who you associate with because, well... Jesus hung out with prostitutes. Every time I hear that I think to myself "no, He did not "hang out" with prostitutes, He ministered to them and there is a difference". In my mind, "hanging out" with someone is going where they go, doing what they do, relating to them because you speak the same language they do and have the same interests that they have. That is not what Jesus did when He was seen with what most would call the lower rung of society. He ministered words of hope to them because that's what they needed most. That's a lot different than "hanging out" with them.

So then, does it matter who we associate with? I believe that it does. I believe we're not supposed to be giving anyone else cause to speculate about our walk with the Lord (intentionally or unintentionally) and I believe who we chose to associate with also by default will be the kind of people that influence us. If we're associating with people who do not influence us in good ways, it most certainly matters. I've thought a lot about this subject over the last year or two as I've even been put under a spotlight due to some of my own associations.

With that said, I wonder how my readers might respond to this very real scenario that comes up all the time.

Let's say you were invited to speak at a Christian function (ladies, for you it's a women's retreat for women only). Let's say at this function that the other speakers are people of seriously questionable doctrine and theology. All of the speakers are well-known in the Christian community, and all of them have less than stellar reputations within this community (due to their questionable doctrine, practices or associations with other folks just like them).

Do you:

A.) accept the invitation regardless of who else is speaking and hope that what you have to offer ministers grace and truth to the hearer (including any of the other speakers that may be there listening to your message)


B.) immediately decline the invitation because you do not wish to be associated in any way with this group of people and by extension, cause undo questioning and controversy

Maybe there is a C as well, but I really couldn't think of one. So I'm curious, what would you do, and why?

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sassy Mouth? Grandma Used Soap to Clean Those Up

A few days ago I read the account of a *university prof who dared critique an up and coming celebrity pastor (celebrity pastors is another topic alltogether). What happened to this prof as a result of his open critique is absoutely unthinkable, and yet it happened. You can read it for yourself here, if you choose. It's very long, so grab a coffee first.

This same man was the guest on a podcast yesterday and I downloaded and listened to part I. Huge files, so part II will have to come later. After the interview with the prof, the host of the podcast played a message by this celeb pastor, and cut into the message to offer commentary.

After listening to this I have something to say:

Whatever school of thought it is out there producing these smart mouth, irreverant pastors, needs to be immediately condemned as unfit for public use, and then be demolished and turned into a lovely park with flowers and a nice duck pond.

I am so sick and tired of hearing these mouthy pastors. They inspire exactly ZERO reverance for holy things, and they're not nearly as funny as they think they are. What's more, shame on their knuckleheaded followers who encourage them rather than lovingly call them on it and encourage them to a higher standard. These mouthy pastors would change their tune right quick if their audiences would stop bursting out in laughter at their juvenile antics. Good grief men, GROW UP. Junior high was over a long time ago, for most of you. (I honestly don't mean that in a snarky, malicious way. I just don't know how else to say what needs to be said.)

*You may wonder why I didn't name names here. It's intentional. Regular readers here know that I have no issue with naming names, however I have read the account of the prof and what happened to him and his family when he dared offer open criticism, and I don't want the same thing happening to my family when some twisted nutjob with a fascination for the violent and obscene does a google search for key names, looking for a target. It may be enough that I linked to the article above, but this is something that the church really NEEDS to see, and understand.

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Traditionally Traditional?

Even though Thanksgiving is over and probably long forgotten already by most folks, I'm still in thanksgiving mode. It's an added bonus of focusing on things to be thankful for during the month of November.

Growing up and into adulthood I've met plenty of people who like me, have a birthday in December. More often than not, those people have a sad story to tell about the way their families celebrated, or didn't celebrate their December birthdays. The most common tale I've heard is that their birthdays weren't really celebrated at all because it was during the mad rush of the Christmas shopping/baking/wrapping/decorating season. For a child, that would be pretty upsetting, especially when your friends and siblings have traditional birthday parties or celebrations.

All the while I was growing up, my December birthday was celebrated by my family in exactly the same way my brother and sister's birthdays were. Grandma and Grandpa's house for dinner (grandma always made my favorite: roast beef with potatos, carrots, gravy, coleslaw and biscuits), cake and ice cream (chocolate cake, peppermint stick ice cream) and presents. The one bonus I received that no one else did, was that after we'd leave grandma's house we'd drive down Candy Cane Lane and see all the decorated homes. It was always a fun and memorable birthday when I was growing up, even if my birthday is in the middle of the mad rush of Christmas traditions.

Right into adulthood, that tradition has continued on with Kev and my 7 wonderful kids. We do the same thing every year on my birthday: go to Benjamin's Tree Farm in St. Jacobs and pick out our Christmas tree, spend some time in the barn/gift shop sipping hot cider and munching shortbread cookies, then have my birthday celebration. Usually we do that at home but this year we did it a week early, at Caryn's house. She made an amazing black forest cake for me, and we all hung out and had fun. We also combined soon to be son in law #3's birthday with mine, since they're only a week apart. Huge thanks to our DJ Eric, while Caryn and I did the really bad karaoke version of Total Eclipse of the Heart! (Eric and Rachel's duet of A-HA's Take On Me was exceptionally memorable, I must say).

So I'm thankful. Thankful that I come from a long line of tradition keepers, and thankful that the sentiment of keeping family traditions has rubbed off with all my kids. Those are the things that make wonderful family memories that last long after all the presents and cake are gone.

Now, if I can find a karaoke version of The Star Spangled Banner, I just might do a video of me wearing my groovy new American Flag t-qualizer flashwear t-shirt that Eric picked out for me.

Or... maybe not. ;-)

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Family Fun

One of the things I love about Christmastime so much, are the time honored family traditions. We have a lot of them, some that I even brought with me into adulthood from my childhood. It's pretty cool when I think about the fact that some of those traditions have been taking place in my life for almost 45 years now. One of the newer ones that we've adopted though, is the family gag gift exchange. For several years we would attend an early Christmas dinner at the home of some extended family members and they always had the gag gift exchange after dinner, and it was an absolute riot (in the funny way). Last year, we decided to adopt it as our own.

The way our gift exchange works is fairly simple and probably quite common:

Everyone coming for Christmas Eve dinner brings 2 wrapped gifts for the exchange (spending cap is $20 for both gifts combined, but you can even keep it under $10 and still make it work really well). One gift should be practical and useful (even a box of crayons or a toothbrush or picture frame would do just fine) and the other should be as random and goofy and impractical as possible. I'm pretty good at random/goofy/impractical, so here is a short suggestion list for gag gifts:

• a rubber chicken (this may double as a practical gift (for someone's dog), if you get the kind that has the squeaker in the pet food section of the store)
• an amature framed painting of Napoleon Bonaparte. (trust me, every thrift store has one, I think it's a federal law that one be required in store for a business license for the thrift shop)
• a small jar of prune juice (again, may double as a practical gift for... well, you get the idea)
• the ugliest shower (or swim) cap you can find. Large plastic flowers attached to the swim cap are a premium and will earn you points for certain.
• mustouche wax (especially touching and meaningful when a woman selects this gift)

So you get the idea. Some really goofy and very inexpensive things to really liven up the party.

Each guest places their wrapped gifts under the tree and draws a number. When it's time to start the opening of gifts, the person with #1 goes first. The person with #2 can either take #1's gift (and #1 has to pick a new gift from under the tree) or pick a gift under the tree. This continues with each person who's drawn a number. You really want to have a high number in the exchange so you can steal someone's gift that has already been opened! A rule we have is that the person selecting the gift to be opened must open the first one they touch. They cannot pick up a gift and shake it, or see how heavy it is or anything like that and then put it back and select another one. If they pick it up, that's the one they get to open. :-)

When each person is done opening gifts, the host or hostess determines the number of gifts left over (not everyone will bring 2, but most will) and choose the fortunate recipients for the BONUS gift! Often, the host or hostess already knows what is in the packages under the tree and (if nice) will give the goofy ones to the ones who received something useful, and the useful ones to the folks that received a genuine gag gift.

All gifts are eligible for donation back into the gift exchange for next year (regifting is most definitely encouraged), and each person attending is free to trade their awesome Napoleon painting for a box of crayons if they chose.

So that's how the gag gift exchange works. It's ridiculously funny, and the more people present the funnier it becomes. If you're doing a gift exchange, do have your camera ready for some really great Christmas memories. Nothing says "I love you" more than your son or daughter cherishing their hand made dill pickle candle, sitting in front of the Christmas tree.

Does your family have a gag gift exchange? What was the WEIRDEST thing you've ever received at one of these, or the weirdest thing you've ever given at one?

I'd love to hear from you!

(and Caryn, if you donate prune juice and I get it, I'm breaking your candy canes. Just a warning. Love always, Mom.)

Graphic design by Carla Rolfe