Make Them Earn Those Gift Cards!

Posted by Belinda Howard Smith on December 16, 2015 in Holiday ideas |


Family Jeapordy Cards

Family Jeapordy Cards

Playing a game of family  trivia Jeopardy style.

Playing a game of family trivia Jeopardy style.Sometimes it is more blessed to receive than to give: I’m talking gift cards. It’s just no fun to give a gift card. I recall the “good old days” and the excitement of happening onto an item I just knew one on my gift list was going to love! The anticipation about kills me before Christmas arrives and I can watch their reaction when it is opened.

My kids are grown and gone are the days of Santa surprises and finding the prized “oh my!” gift. I am destined to purchase a variety of gift cards. A few years ago I decided to make a game of it and wrapped one gift per child. One package had a Bluetooth unit for a vehicle that accommodated hands-free phone talk.  Other gifts had a combination of gift cards such as movie theatre tickets with a restaurant card, or a pretty dish with a Bath and Body Works gift card. Each gift was approximately the same value. Then on Christmas we played the White Elephant Gift Game and a major swap and steal game ensued.

I say, make them earn those gift cards!

Last year was the best sneaky surprise. A week before Christmas the family gathered for our annual gingerbread house building. Afterwards we told everyone we were going to play a game of Jeopardy just for fun. (The dollar amounts were considerably less than the televised game.) I was pleasantly surprised with the level of competition and enthusiasm.

Each category was based on our family memories except for two somewhat generic categories so that the new additions to the family had a chance at winning. Those two categories were: “Numbers” and “Name that Carol.”

In the game Jeopardy a player selects a category and dollar amount then the game host makes the corresponding statement for that selection. The player must then give the answer in the form of a question.  For example: A player selects the category of Travel for $20. The statement on the back of the card read: “stranded on a sailboat.” The first player who raises his hand answers in the form of a question. In this case the correct answer was, “Where is Lake Buchanan?” The winner of that round selects the next category and dollar amount and the game continues until all cards are played.

On our game night when a player stated the correct question we handed the player the winning card so he or she could keep count of their own score by adding the dollar amounts at the end of the game to determine the winner.  It was an evening filled with laughter and memories of family trips, pets we owned, funny things the kids said growing up we categorized as “words of wisdom” remembering the time Lauren was doing her homework and asked Corey what language is spoken in Brazil and he told her Brazilian.

Christmas morning they were surprised to find their stocking filled with the same amount of cash as their score from the game of Jeopardy. Now that beats a gift card doesn’t it?

If you’re thinking this would be a fun game for your family too help here are some tips:

  • First determine your budget – how much money in total you will give away.
  • Jot as quickly as possible 40-50 thoughts of family memories over the years
  • Read over the list and group the subjects into six categories such as travel, pets, quotes, accidents, etc.
  • On 30 index cards or cut cards approximately 4”x6” write the dollar amount on one side and on the opposite side the statement and then the answer or acceptable answers in the form of a question below it. Note: You may want to color code the cards with each category a different color.
  • Tape the cards on a wall or vertical surface lining the cards by category to play Jeopardy.
  • If some of the players are new to the family have a couple of categories they can answer. (You can troll for information on their social media page even if you’re not a “friend.”)

Have fun!

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What I Really Want for Christmas

Posted by Belinda Howard Smith on December 8, 2015 in Holiday ideas |

I have all the baubles and beads I need

With plenty of clothing to wear

Trinkets galore and books to read

And a stylist takes care of my hair

This year I’ve asked my kids to fill MY Christmas stocking. I even told them what I’d like for them to put in it. I’ve gone so far as to help them by giving them the supplies and ideas to make my wish come true.

What I really want for Christmas is their written memories of Christmases past. I gave each one several lined journal boxes. Hopefully I didn’t need to provide the ink as well.Journal Boxes

Here is a list of writing prompts:

Favorite ornament

Activities (caroling, trail of lights, decorating gingerbread houses, ice skating, snow angels)

Santa surprise

Gift gone wrong

Holiday games


Holiday clothing

I sure hope they indulge me this year! I may need a memory jogger in a few years.


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If Only in My Dreams

Posted by Belinda Howard Smith on December 4, 2015 in Growing Up in Plainview, Telling Your Stories |

There is something about the change in weather. Days are shorter, darkness falls earlier, there’s dampness in the air. Christmas carols play on the radio and I think of home long ago. It happens every year.

I hear the bells ringing against the glass door as a customer enters the gifts and jewelry store where I worked as a teenager. I enjoy wrapping gifts – smoothing the colorful paper pressed against the box with a beautiful hand-tied bow Patsye taught me how to make. I was intimidated at first trying to make the bow not look like a wadded up mess. Now it’s second nature like tying a shoe.

I worked at Payne’s for four years which is a long time for a teenager. I was the only young person there until Tonya came along two years later as the next high school student to take my official position as gift-wrapper though we did more than wrap gifts. We were like a big family in this nurturing workplace.

In spite of the passing decades Plainview, a farming community of about 20,000 is still “home”. After I moved away I still worked weekends at Payne’s during the Christmas season commuting from a larger town about an hour away. It was the place to be to hear the news about town and to see most everyone either coming in to shop, leave a watch for repair, or to pick-up their beautifully gift-wrapped packages. Many times students home from college came in to shop with their mother or pick up her wrapped purchases. It was nice to connect with so many friends.

My dad didn’t farm but I knew if it was a good year or not by the habits of shoppers. In a good year farmers came into the store wearing coveralls and work boots to select a gift for the wife. Some didn’t take much time in their decision knowing their wife would exchange it after Christmas for one she liked better. Their wives spent more money for Christmas in a good year. Everyone was jovial.

I found comfort growing up in a small town where you are either personally known or by whom you belong to. I was doubly blessed working with five mentors: Joe, Patsy, Hugh, Shirley and Mavis. They are all gone now and I am left with memories. Every Christmas In my mind’s eye I see Mavis a tall slender woman, graying hair with a gap between her two front teeth. She is always smiling.

Mavis made the best, softest, most sugary peanut patties. She’d bring a batch of them to work to share and I just couldn’t leave them alone. Those peanut patties called my name from the break room until they were gone. I have her recipe and as I make them every Christmas (and sometimes in-between) I see Mavis’ smiling face.

Just like in the carol, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”


I hope you enjoy Mavis’ recipe.

Mavis' Peanut Pattie Recipe

Mavis’ Peanut Pattie Recipe

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The Mysterious Package

Posted by Belinda Howard Smith on December 3, 2015 in Growing Up in Plainview, Telling Your Stories |

Knee deep in wrappings and bows.

Daddy was less patient for Christmas to hurry up and arrive than us kids. He was anxious to watch us experience the flurry of opening gifts and the joy in our expressions. At our house, we didn’t wait until Christmas morning: we opened our gifts after supper on Christmas Eve. Miraculously while we were eating at the table Santa left gifts under the tree and filled our stockings. The long wait was for the last person to finish eating which of course was Mother. I don’t recall her ever getting in a hurry about anything.

When it “was time” we scurried into the living room, a long room with doors at each end where one could entertain without everyone else in the house being involved (or heard). Though now, all three doors were wide open.

One of the kids, or Daddy laid claim on calling out names pasted on gift-wrapped boxes and stationed themselves under the tree moving quickly so no one had to wait another second to hear their name called and proceed to ripping paper off packages like our life depended on some record speed of getting a box open.

Chaos ensued as everyone opened gift after gift all at once with complete abandon. The only pause to the paper and bows flying was to survey the contents, quickly thank the giver and move to opening the next present. It was all over in a matter of minutes. That is, except for Mother. She quietly sat with a stack of gifts slowly opening them one by one while the rest of us were knee deep in torn paper and empty boxes.

Stack of gifts.

Mother’s tall stack of gifts.

There was one wrapped gift left under the tree. It was a large box, big enough to hold four maybe five inflated basket balls. It had no ribbon or bow, not even a name tag. Who was it for? Mother remembered wrapping it but she couldn’t recall what was inside this gargantuan box. She rose from her chair with a now smaller stack of still unopened gifts beside it to inspect the mystery package. She lifted the box checking the weight for a clue. Then she gave it a gentle shake. We all watched in anticipation as to who might be the lucky recipient. She began removing paper in slow-motion (just a tad slower than her typical pace) in the event she remembered who it was for before completely unwrapping the box. It didn’t stir a memory. She carefully broke apart the tapped seam holding the large box closed and peeked inside without revealing its contents.

“Oh, it’s for Belinda. Your daddy saw this and bought it for you.”

I pulled out the wadded newspapers that cushioned the fragile gift. When I could get my hands around this unknown ceramic object I pulled it from the box. It was a cream colored, gold painted accented, possibly least attractive elephants I had ever seen.  And it was mine. Daddy knew I love elephants and bought this one for me.

I treasure this elephant. Pretty or not, this big ole elephant has moved with me several times over the years. I named it Fred after my dad.

An elephant named Fred

An elephant named Fred

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