In our family, as in lots of others I’m sure, when Christmas rolls around and the kids are all excited about presents, the chance to open a present early is a big deal. My sisters and I were no different. We wanted to open a present on Christmas Eve every year, and since my parents were just about as excited as we were, we always go to. There was, however, an ulterior motive for opening one gift early. You see there would be pictures taken on Christmas morning…and it was going to happen before anyone got dressed for the day, so the logical Christmas Eve gift was, of course…pajamas.

Every year we knew what was in the package before we opened it, but we were excited nevertheless. It was always so great getting new pajamas…that soft, new feeling. And even though we knew what the gift was, we didn’t know what they would look like. They might have been a night gown, or a top and pants, Baby-doll pajamas, or T-Shirt pajamas, it didn’t really matter. They were new and we always loved them.

When my girls came along, Bob and I continued the tradition. They always loved their new pajamas, and sometimes they were really special, because their grandma made them for the girls and their cousins. Really, what could be more cozy than being all snuggley and warm in a pair of flannel pajamas in front of a crackling fire on a cold winter night. Those were special days. The presents were all wrapped and the kids waited…impatiently for morning to arrive. The very air was filled with electricity.

It was always so hard to wait for Christmas morning to arrive, and even today I find it difficult. Watching my kids, and now my grandkids opening the gifts that I have searched high and low for, is so gratifying. And when you have found the totally awesome gift the anticipation makes it even harder to wait. So here we are…Christmas eve has arrived, and while I don’t give pajamas anymore, there will be a gift opened tonight, because it is tradition, and with each tradition comes the memories it creates, past, present, and future. Who knew way back then what those Christmas pajamas would start.

From the time they were little babies, my grandchildren have had Christmas pictures taken together every year. Those photo sessions were often not fun to say the very least. One or more of the kids always seemed to want nothing to do with one or more of the others. The instant the photo session started, so did the fighting and the inevitable headache. You could call it sibling rivalry or cousin rivalry, but whatever you want to call it, it was the pits. Well, last weekend was that time again, and we all expected the same old thing.

For many years, my granddaughter was certain that she would never love her brother. I kept trying to tell her that eventually she would like her brother and even have fun hanging out with him. Still she was certain that there was no way that would ever happen. Now, just a few short years later, they are friends, and I’m so happy to see it. I love watching them playing together. Really, it’s like they are saying, “Here we are, who once were enemies, and who now are friends.” That look that warms a grandmother’s heart. Watching them share a laugh and goof off together…well, it was awesome.

Christopher and Josh didn’t fight in the same way that Shai and Caalab, but I suppose that is just because they were both boys, and two brothers fight differently than brother and sister do. Still, I remember a number of times when Kevin had to get after his boys for fighting too. Each one felt like he needed to take matters into his own hands if his brother got out of line. Now that Chris is working, Josh is starting to miss his brother quite a bit. He is thinking about the fun they have had through the years.

One of the biggest rivalries, however has been between the two youngest boys, Caalab and Josh. They seemed always to be fighting each other for some reason or another. They fought over who got to hang with Christopher. They fought over who was the boss. They fought over toys, games, friends…they probably would have fought over the air if they had thought about it. Now, even that is changing. They get along so much better.

After the traditional Christmas pictures were done, we turned the kids loose to go outside and create a little different Christmas picture, and I have to say that it is those pictures that have been a big surprise. The kids played and laughed, threw snowballs, tossed each other into the snow, chased each other…but they didn’t fight. They who once were enemies, and they who now are friends. My grandchildren, who have made a transition…that first real step into adulthood. I was amazed, pleased, and definitely in awe of the change.

When my grandkids were little, I found a great toy box that would serve a dual purpose. It was a Winnie the Pooh couch/toy box. It decorated our living room for many years. I’m sure many people would have laughed about our unusual decor, but my grandchildren loved it. Their Winnie the Pooh couch was the first place they ran to when they came into my house. It was like a lost treasure chest. Every time they opened it, they knew the toys would be waiting for them.

The seat of the couch slid out, so the toys were kept hidden when the kids weren’t playing with them, but the minute one of the grandkids came in, the seat was quickly removed, and the toys instantly cluttered the entire room. How is it that kids can get toys out so fast? That has always been the way kids were. My girls could take a room from clean to disaster in about 10 seconds. It was like a tornado hit the room. I know all kids are about the same, and I guess they wouldn’t be kids if they weren’t that way.

I wanted to have a toy box at my house for my grandkids, like I’m sure most grandparents do, but I wanted it to be something a little more…stylish. A lot of grandparents just find a box and it becomes a makeshift toy box, but I wanted one where their dreams could be housed. A place where their imaginations could grow and blossom. And a place where they could sit to watch television, or read books. I wanted a little…toy land…just for them. The Winnie the Pooh couch served just that purpose.

That little couch/toy box has long since left my house to move on to other children who would use it more, since my grandchildren are now teenagers. We all know that the toys teenagers play with are definitely not the ones housed in a Winnie the Pooh couch, but the memories of that old couch come to mind every so often, and they always bring a smile to my face. Those little tiny people running into my house and straight to the toy box…the giggling that would soon follow…and the pure joy of the great blessing that grandchildren are.

For the past year, I have had the distinct pleasure of working side by side with my granddaughter at The Stengel Agency. Yesterday was Shai’s one year anniversary. She is our CSR, and her job is to answer phones, take payments, keep our filing up to date, and all the other odd jobs we give her. This has been a great opportunity for a high school student, and she has done a great job of it.

Not many people get to work with their kids or grandkids, and I am blessed to be able to work with both. There is a loyalty that goes along with working side by side with family and friends, and that is what you will find in our office. There is no need to micro-manage anyone, because we all just do our jobs. Shai comes in after school, and works until 5:00pm every weekday. When she first started working in the office, she was nervous about answering the phones, and dealing with customers, but as time has gone on, she is very comfortable greeting customers, and talking on the phone.

Kids go through many changes as they journey from childhood to adulthood, and I am proud to say that through those years Shai has excelled in several key areas of that journey. At 10 years of age, she cared for her great grandparents during the last 2 months of that summer, when they were both quite ill. I was very proud of how capable and responsible she was. We knew we didn’t have to worry about them…Shai was on the job. She also babysat my niece’s 3 boys, and they knew their children were in good hands…not to mention loved. And now, she is proving herself in the office. We know we can count on her to do her job to the very best of her ability.

Shai, I don’t know what your future plans will be, and while I love working with you, I will support you in whatever you do, but I will tell you this…you make a good CSR, and I believe that as time goes on you will get better and better at it. And thanks for the great…but fictional picture. I know you didn’t really drop those files, but it definitely adds flair to my story. Congratulations on a great first year!! Love you very much!!

It is a comment most of us have either heard as children or said to our kids or grandkids…or both. “I’m going to throw you in the snowbank!” It was a comment that usually set the child on the receiving end to laughing, and maybe wondering if you would really do it, or if you were just kidding. The funny thing about it is that it was something that seldom really happened, and to be honest, I have often wondered why.

It is such a funny thing to think about…a big guy, usually the dad or grandpa, or uncle as had been the case in this scene, would pick up a kid, carry him out side, and deposit him in the snowbank. The kid comes up sputtering as they wipe the snow off of their face and try to get it out of their clothes, as it melts and runs down their skin causing that shocked feeling that can only happen when cold snow hits warm skin. Their shouts of shock and…well, stunned disbelief at just how cold it was. I think in this case, however Caalab actually liked it, and I know Josh got a big kick out if it.

Most kids love playing in the snow…throwing snowballs and building forts…building snowmen, and yes, being thrown in the snowbank. It is what makes wintertime so much fun for kids, who don’t even seem to notice the cold. They have a built in heating system it seems. I remember those days myself, and I look back now and wonder why the cold didn’t bother me very much. I suppose it all comes down to the amount of fun you are having in the snow, and kids can sure find a lot of ways to do just that.

It is the wonder and pleasure of playing that we seem to lose as adults, that they still have, that makes playing in the snow so fun. My granddaughter, Shai is like that. She loves the snow and wants it to snow every day from October through March. I have started to try to see the snow through her beautiful eyes, and I have learned that whether you are playing in the snow, building a snowman, or just enjoying the peace and quiet of a snowy night, there is a beauty and wonder that is attached to the snow, if you just take a moment to look around and see it. I have often thought about the phrase, “stop and smell the roses”, but maybe we should also stop and look at the snowflakes…at least once in a while.

When Christopher and Shai were born, just one day apart, many people thought they were twins…at least those who didn’t know they were cousins. I suppose part of the problem is that they were together much of the time, and people just see two car seats in the back seat, with two babies about the same age, an immediately assume that they are twins. Amy’s mother-in-law thought they were both so cute together, that she bought them a matching set of boy and girl outfits, and asked that we take some pictures with them in the outfits. We made arrangements to have the pictures taken, and did our best to take the picture she wanted. However…the best laid plans do not always produce the best results.

Christopher was always quick to smile, but Shai was a little more…jumpy in those early years. We tried over and over to get both of the kids to smile at the same time, but as is normal with kids, that just didn’t happen. The kids were about six months old, and as we all know, it can be tough to get two 6 month old babies to be happy at the same time. Still, we persevered and took whatever possible shots we could. I can’t say that the picture taking process was a very successful endeavor, but the end result was better than we thought it would be.

The best picture we could get is the one you see, and while Shai is being fussy, the picture has a charm all its own. We have always wondered what the problem was, and many have speculated about it. But, I think by far the cutest one was the idea that Christopher is smiling in that mischievous way because he just pinched Shai, which would also explain her face. I’m sure that at 6 months of age, any pinching that might have happened would be entirely by accident, but the look on their faces is just so classic, that we couldn’t help but think it could have happened just that way…or maybe Shai was just having a bad day. We will never really know what the problem was, but the picture is so precious, no matter what was going on.

There is just something about your grandpa when you are little. His big strong arms that can easily hold you and your cousin, so nobody is left out. Grandma’s arms are great…a wonderful place to go when you have an owie or just need a hug…you know, that cuddly, comfort place, but Grandpa’s arms are strong and protective. He can pick you up and make you feel big and tall. My grandkids loved it when Papa picked them up together when they were little. They thought it was kind of funny that he could do that.

Papa was real good at teasing, tickling, and chasing. He was also perfect for horsey rides on his foot or his back, and piggy back rides too. An he could lift those kids up on his shoulders so they could see, or lift them up to touch the ceiling. All things that their dads could do too, but somehow it was a little different when it was Papa. It’s funny how everything is different when it’s with your grandparents. Even when the kids are little, they know that grandparents are special.

When the kids started spending the night, Papa was, and still is, the best alarm clock out there. If those kids didn’t want to wake up when it is time to go to breakfast…he would make that happen. He might tickle their feet, threaten to leave them home without breakfast…and that is a threat, because they love going out to breakfast. Usually it only takes a couple of tries and the final…”Ok, we will go without you!!” to get them moving.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and as the boys get older, they are more able to handle their Papa. While they may not be able to completely take him yet, the day is coming. Of course, they love him, so I’m sure they will take it easy on the old man…maybe, but either way, when they can finally take him, I’m quite sure they will rub it in really well. I guess you could say he is blessed to have a granddaughter too, because those girls have a very different way of handling their Papa…she will simply sweet talk him, just like her mom and aunt do. Girls are different in that way. They don’t have to vie for superiority with their dads or grandpas, they just have to smile.

Every year during Fire Safety Week, the local fire department holds an event to create better awareness to the hazards of fire, and how to stay safe. A lot of the day is geared toward the kids, because they are new to fire safety. Fire trucks are brought in and the kids…and adults…can get a ride in the big ladder bucket, which is very cool. You also have the opportunity to take a closer look at the trucks, and learn about all they can do. Of course, every kid wants to see the lights and hear the sirens. There are rooms set up to show you how to escape in the event of a fire in the home, and talking about fire extinguishers and such. It is all designed to teach people how to survive a fire.

When my grandchildren were little, and probably also because Bob worked on the fire trucks, we always took them to those things. It made for a fun day, and it’s never too early to teach kids about fire safety. Of course, their parents went to, when they could, and we made an event of it. The kids had a great time checking out all the event had to offer, and of course, there was always food and drinks…a definite plus as far as they were concerned, especially if the food was something good, like cookies.

When they were little, they really didn’t care much about the whole fire safety thing, but the rooms to teach escape were kind of cool!! They showed the places where fires could start and had the necessary equipment for escaping in them. There were instructions for the kids that could read, and people to help , or the parents could help the little ones. The whole place looked to the kids like a big playhouse. So they took their time playing in there, and that is when a discovery was made…

I know that you thought you knew exactly how the old Christmas story goes, but all these years I think you may have been wrong. We have all heard it…the story about Santa Clause coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve, bringing toys to all the good little girls and boys…but you have it all wrong. I know that for a fact, because there in that little fire safety room, we discovered that it wasn’t Santa Clause than comes down the chimney at all, but rather it is Christopher Santa Clause that comes down the chimney with all the toys. No seriously…it is…just look!! See…you just thought you knew…

Kids see things differently than we do. They are always watching the adults around them, trying to understand what things are important…or better yet, grown up. To be sure, that is good reason to be careful what you do, because there are always little eyes watching you, learning, trying to become you, because they love you. It is amazing to think that this little life is looking to you to shape it, and teach it what is right and wrong. It’s easy let the cute little bad habits pass, but not the best idea. Before you know it, you have to break those habits. It is also somewhat unnerving, to know that your every move is being watched and analyzed as only a child can do.

Kids are so willing to help out in the home when they are little…not that those days will last. They will figure out that it’s work soon enough, and then it won’t be so easy to get them to help out…without pay that is. Still, all too often, we won’t let them pitch in when they are little, because they don’t know how to do things right. A big mistake on our part I think. So it isn’t done perfectly…they will learn…if we let them. And the whole learning part is so cute, and they feel so grown up, that it is a shame to deny them that right to be a little helper. And what difference does it make if your bed isn’t perfectly made or the vacuuming perfectly done every day? Isn’t their self esteem more important?

And of course, there is the clothing lessons. They watch what you wear, and do their best to look just like you. It’s always funny to see little ones stumbling around in their mom’s or grandma’s heels or their dad’s or grandpa’s boots. Hats and mittens, coats and clothes, are all fair game when kids are playing dress up. They just look up to their parents so much…see them as the most beautiful of the most handsome person ever. Don’t you wish those days could last forever…or at least through the teenage years? But those days are gone so quickly and then they no longer see things through the eyes of a child.

Thanksgiving is a time to remember all your blessings, and where they came from. As I looked at this picture of our family at Thanksgiving, so long ago, is occurs to me just how blessed we are. This picture shows a pretty small group, but the reality is that our family has exploded with growth since that time. Most families do grow and change over the years. Children grow up, get married and have children…the blessings continue to grow. We have so much to be thankful for. Most of us live in the area, and have had the chance to stay very close. Our children know each other, and their children do too. We go to church as a family…taking up 3 rows of chairs these days.

Yes, there are some who have gone home to be with the Lord…Dad, Alyssa, Laila, Nancy, Marlyce, as well as grandparents and some aunts, uncles and cousins, and we miss them very much, but we are thankful that we will see them again, and that the Lord comforts us concerning those have gone home, and gives us the strength to move forward, in spite of the pain. And, I am thankful that my mom and my in-laws are all doing well, and I pray that continues for a long, long time. And I’m thankful that the rest of the family is also in good health. We are so blessed in that way, and I thank God for that.

So often, we dwell on our problems or disappointments, and forget to notice our blessings. Today, I want to focus on all the positive things in my life, and all the loved ones I have been blessed with. I want to focus on the freedoms we have, simply because we live in a country that values those freedoms. I am thankful for the men who have fought and died to win those freedoms. And mostly, I am thankful for my savior, Jesus, who came and died for me so I could have eternal life.

We all have so much to be thankful for. It is my hope today, that all is well with you and yours, and that you never take your blessings for granted. I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.

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