How (and Why) to Keep Track of Your Family’s Favorites

Gift-giving occasions come around pretty often at our house, with twelve children and their families. Birthdays and holidays are a chance to show love and appreciation to the recipient, but gifts from garage sales and thrift stores are fair game.
[break][/break]Quantity counts for birthdays, and the younger children especially like to give small gifts like candy. Used pencils and pennies taped in homemade cards are also popular with the youngest siblings.
[break][/break]Our traditions include birthday cereal chosen by the special person. There are usually a couple of kinds, and yes, they are all rarely purchased junk cereal like Marshmallow Maties or Cap’n Crunch. More than once we have made a late-night run to the grocery store when I forgot the birthday cereal.
[break][/break]Due to the sheer volume of people and advanced age (mine), it’s nearly impossible to remember who likes what kind of cereal or candy or other items.   Many years ago I designed a form on the computer called “Family Favorites.” It used to be paper forms kept in a home management notebook. Times have changed and now the lists are kept in a folder in an app on Mom’s iPhone.
[break][/break]When it is time for a birthday or other gift-giving occasion, anyone can check the list for a family member and see what their favorites are. These are the categories that we use:
  • Favorite Restaurants (this is handy for gift cards or plans for a birthday meal)
  • Favorite Candy (helps us choose small gifts or Finals Survival Kit items for the ones in college)
  • Favorite Home-Cooked Meal (useful for times when I want to especially encourage a child, not just for birthdays)
  • Favorite Cereal
  • Favorite Colors
  • Favorite Snacks (nice to plan for when grown children are going to be in for the weekend)
Gifts are always nice, but gifts that are your special favorites are even better. We update the lists about once a year as tastes change, children get older or someone gets engaged.
[break][/break]Edith Schaeffer said “Somebody has to get up early, stay up late, do more than the others, if the human garden is to be a thing of beauty.” It’s work to buy gifts, decorate a table, plan in advance for a special dessert or keep track of who likes what. But that work translates into caring for persons and helping them feel valued in the family. A Family Favorites list is a practical tool to keep track of special preferences so that you can personalize an occasion without too much strain on a busy Mom’s brain.



  1. Birkach2001 says:

    We do Birthday Breakfast. Usually donuts, pastries or homemake Cinnamon rolls. It’s especially fun when we live overseas and go to the local bakery shops to buy the pastries. My husbands favorite is still American donut shop donuts.

  2. A good thing to add to your list of favorites is updated clothing and shoe sizes. That way I can be sure (relatively) that when I find something on sale or at a garage sale it will fit! Although when not sure, I’ve been known to say it will probably fit someone at our house!

    We also have done some pretty creative birthday parties. One that stands out was a backwards birthday. Everyone wore their clothes backwards, when guests arrived we said “Goodbye! Thanks for coming!” We had dessert first. I actually made the cake then plopped it upside down on a clear glass platter so you could see Happy Birthday written backwards, etc. We played games backwards, like musical chairs where you start with one chair, tag running backwards, etc. It was a lot of fun!

  3. The birthday boy/girl chooses a special meal (either home cooked or out) and the dessert of their choice. We then all gather (as many as are in town) and celebrate. We ALWAYS hang a happy birthday banner (which has seen better days but is still very loved). Gifts have become a less important part of the celebration as the children have grown up but we still try to bless them with small things that are personal. The traditional singing of happy birthday (in harmony) always surfaces at some point during the celebration.

    Since we have a son & daughter in-law that live 1500 miles from us we have had to become creative to stay connected. We text happy birthday wishes and memories several times throughout the day and call and sing (whether in person or by message), send cards and gifts, and do our best to let them know how much they are loved and cherished on their special day.

    All of this sounds very ordinary and typical, however, as new children (those who have married in) have come into the family we realize that not all families celebrate birthdays. We did our best to make it a sort of Ballenger Holiday…(like the 4th of July)! We must have done a good job because they all still want to come home for their special day and the newbies have fallen right into step with the festivities and have come to expect it for their special day too! LOL WE LOVE IT!

  4. With eleven children and a decade-long commitment to healthy eating, we seldom eat in a restaurant. So, on each person’s birthday, they choose where they want to eat and the parents take them there for either lunch or dinner. It is guaranteed time alone with Mother and Daddy as well as food they especially want to eat. After the meal, we return to the house to share a dessert with the rest of the family….usually something like a large chocolate chip cookie from a favorite chocolate shoppe.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great comments! I’m getting ideas, too!

  6. I am curious to know what App you use.

  7. TheSweetOne says:

    WONDERFUL idea Charlotte!!! thank you very much. Our family is not as big as yours 🙂 (although it sometimes feels like it) but it is still a very helpful idea. I also love the way you remind us about the beautiful “garden family” because sometimes I feel too lazy or not “in the mood” to do some big, special thing — but that’s just it, it doesn’t have to be BIG, all the “little things” add up, and makes the person feel special — I specially like the cereal/bfast idea (my oldest loves oatmeal). Again, thank you. Love, from Honduras, CA.

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Glad this idea helped! It’s so true–someone said we don’t remember days, we remember moments, and as Moms we can make moments special with just a little effort!

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