Saturday, December 17, 2011

Let technology deliver your favorite Christmas stories

Stories of Christmas can be easily be viewed on an iPad or downloaded to your computer.

Do you ever want to shout into a bullhorn: “ Hey, family—put away the handheld games, mobile phones, laptops, and iPads, and let’s celebrate Christmas!” 
As if that would work.
Technology is both a slave—performing essential and even boring tasks for us—as well as, sometimes, a master.  We need to accept its benefits, try to minimize its drawbacks, and accept it, because it’s here to stay. And technology has changed the way people celebrate Christmas for ages.
When the first pages rolled off of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, it rocked the world, including the way we celebrate Christmas. For the first time, common people had easy access to the Bible, including the story of Christ’s birth. Now, 562 years later, books have become an enduring part of Christmas celebrations.
When my friend Phil asked us to share favorite Christmas books and stories at a meeting of the Friends of the Nampa Library, it reminded us that good books have power to unite families.   He held up a battered copy of A Visit from St. Nicolaus (aka The Night Before Christmas) and said, “My Dad read this every year, along with the story from St. Luke chapter two. And now I read both to my grandchildren.”
One woman said it just wasn’t Christmas if her father didn’t read The Littlest Angel out loud. Another held out a small Little Golden Book of Christmas Music and said she had treasured it for nearly 50 years.
Another said that books weren’t important in her family.  It was only after years of struggling with dyslexia that she came to love books because reading was a way to “push back” against her disability.  As an adult, books became a treasured part of her family’s celebration.
Most friends related experiences with the age-old story from Luke, including that of a little girl who moved the Baby Jesus to various places around the house so the “Wise Guys” could look for Him.
In our childhood home, shepherds dressed in bathrobes, angels in sheets and wise men in finery to enact that story every Christmas Eve, with the youngest child as Baby Jesus, and Dad as narrator.
Then Dad read How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the little ones shivered to think of one so wicked as to steal Christmas, leaving “a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.” This year, I swear that our 18-month-old granddaughter with blond curls and blue eyes is  “little Cindy Lou Who, who is not more than two.”
Radio, movies and television gave us even more family Christmas traditions centered in technology. At our house we view It’s a Wonderful Life, The Christmas Story and White Christmas every year. Interestingly, in 1965, Charles M. Schulz recognized something that producers of A Charlie Brown Christmas did not.  He insisted on retaining Linus’s recitation of the Luke 2 story —even when producers said that would make the 1965 showing the first and last.  It became an enduring classic, and his daughter, Amy Johnson, said, “My dad said he believed that the American people really do like decent entertainment.”
Technology won’t change basic truths like that.  This year, my husband and I decided to re-read A Christmas Carol.  I never did find our old paperback. We read about two-thirds from an iPad and listened to the rest in a great audio online dramatization.
Watching on our computer and iPad, we've enjoyed the Luke 2 story in "The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos," a series of well-produced video clips that we found here.
As a Christmas gift, our friends bought a Kindle for their 93-year-old mother.  It’s lighter than a paper back and easier for her to turn pages with her arthritic hands. 
Forget the bullhorn. Just find a story that engages your family, and enjoy it together—no matter what technology delivers it. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Let your fingers do the walking to a cheap and easy Christmas gift

"What do you give the person who has everything?" If that question plagues you this time of year, join the club. And as I pondered gift ideas to share with my readers that would be cheap—always my first criteria— easy, and related to family history, I scratched my head.

Then I snitched chocolate chips.

Then I took a nap. 

Then I daydreamed about the holidays and got excited about New Year’s Day. Why New Year’s Day? Because that’s when my siblings and I will celebrate our second annual Family Conference Call.

As with everything else that draws us together, it started with Mom. But this time, she didn’t browbeat or manipulate us into doing anything.  She simply died—at 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, 2009. Ever frugal, she didn’t waste much of the old year.

My two brothers and five sisters and I were devastated.  Like Lincoln, we could say, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” We tried to plan her funeral from eight locations in Idaho, Utah, California and Ohio, and finally set up a conference call to nail down many important details.

Last year, as we approached that painful first anniversary, one sister suggested another conference call. Mom did things that drove us crazy, such as sending us to the post office to mail Christmas items late in the day, covering ugly things with contact paper, single-handedly supporting the local copy store, and writing reams of stories that had to be placed in sheet protectors, copied and – once again—mailed at the last minute.  Amazingly, we discovered that we were doing these things too—WE WERE BECOMING OUR MOTHER! So this was our Conference Call announcement, shared through Christmas cards and emails:

“Win a lifetime supply of sheet protectors in the “JOYCE NELSON COPYCAT CONTEST!” Three have entered so far—see if you can top these efforts:

1)   Shanan got in a fuss about mailing packages and Christmas mail! An excellent effort but she loses points for not sending Josh to the Post Office at 4:47 p.m. with orders to “hurry, and be nice to [the grumpy post mistress of our youth.]” 

2)   Debbie put contact paper on the floor underneath two sinks! A good try, but the volume of contact paper was paltry and she only removed small strips of backing paper, making it too easy since the paper didn’t roll around and stick to itself, and her.

3)   Ellen took family photos to the copy store, made zillions of copies and mailed them to every one for Christmas! She looks like the front-runner – going to the copy store was a brilliant stroke! However, she may have points deducted for not Writing much and getting all of this in the mail a full 10 days before Christmas!

“See if you can top these—tell us YOUR copy cat efforts and cast your vote when we have our Siblings Conference Call at 4 p.m. Mountain Time on New Year’s Day.”

Our 2010 conference call cost $45, split eight ways.  Last year, the company we’d used gave a holiday credit of $40, which covered our 2011 call! A number of companies offer conference calls at little or no cost. Calls can be done via your computer (and you can see each other) if all parties have the right software, such as Skype. Google “conference call” or “internet conference call” and research which company you’d like to use. Let family members know the day, time and what they need to do to participate.

There you go—cheap, easy and related to your family history. Now I’m off to find chocolate chips!