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Preserve the Spirit of Summer in Your Family Year-Round

It was the apex of my childhood, over and over
––  inscription in a beach house guest book

For most families, summer is a season lasting approximately 12 weeks. Into it, we pack most of our relaxation for the year, along with our memories, our entertaining, and our sensual experiences –– whether they involve digging our toes into wet sand at the ocean’s edge or biting into a stack of mozzarella, tomato and basil, drizzled with olive oil, and swearing we can taste the Mediterranean.

It’s the season when the sun kisses our faces and causes our children’s height to spurt. It’s the season of wearing less clothing; spending more time with family and friends; eating fresh, tree-ripened fruit; and spending nights playing games or gazing at stars. In summer, time moves just a little more slowly.

When asked to name a childhood memory, most adults will remember an incident or a feeling from summer. While we can’t actually experience the golden season in December, there are a few fun and meaningful ways to harness the spirit of summer for our families to enjoy year-round.

Make Summer Food and Drinks

Many people associate the foods of summer with spots around the globe that bask in warm climates for much of the year. Think Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, African, Southeast Asian, South American, Mexican, Caribbean, Hawaiian, and regional U.S. dishes that use fresh fish, meats, cheese, vegetables, and herbs, and combine ingredients simply for results that are sensuous and robustly flavored. Cooking from warm climates is not only delicious, but can put you in a summer frame of mind any time of year. Try making Chicken Mole, Ratatouille, Easy Weeknight Fish Tacos, All Season Slaw or Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Recreate your favorite barbecue recipes that can be made in an oven or broiler. Roast marshmallows in a fireplace or over a stove flame for s’mores.

Or make the yummy Mango Lassi (instructions at the bottom of this post.)

Camp in Your Living Room

Camping in sleeping bags is fun any time of year, indoors or out. Rustle up some s’mores in a fireplace or over an oven flame. Sing your favorite campfire songs. Tell stories. Make Hand Shadow Puppets by having someone project a flashlight onto a wall, a practice that goes back 2,000 years to Han Dynasty China! (Instructions at the end of this post.)

Have a Summer Movie Marathon

A dead-of winter double feature or an all-out film festival can put your family back in a summer frame of mind. Make s’mores and watch a rustic- or camp-themed movie like The Parent Trap (original and remake), The Great Outdoors, Camp Nowhere, Meatballs or Cheaper by the Dozen 2. Show a classic summer beach or surf movie (and try to explain to your kids that bathing suits really looked like that):  Beach Blanket and Gidget series, Blue Hawaii or The Endless Summer. Enjoy popcorn and a fun road-trip movie, such as It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Are We There Yet? and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Have pre-teens or teens? Show Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, One Crazy Summer, Stand by Me or The Flamingo Kid.

Garden for Wildlife Year-Round

Some of the best moments for enjoying birds and butterflies occur during the fall, winter, and spring, even in cold climate zones. This can be when animals most need food and shelter. Watching animal activity, outside or even out a window, can brighten a gloomy day and encourage us to be better in tune with the cycles of nature, especially when we know we’re helping animals find food just when it can be hardest for them to do so. Plant a simple habitat garden with plants that attract birds and butterflies. Make and hang an easy bird feeder and watch the birds enjoy the eatery!

Grow Your Favorite Herbs

Take a page from French gardeners and employ your own potager –– a simple, accessible kitchen garden –– all year. Many herbs do very well in small indoor containers or on a kitchen windowsill. These include basil, chives, cilantro, scented geranium, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and edible flowers. You can also grow lettuce indoors. Enjoy the simple act of growing and snipping a sprig of your herbs to add to a soup, a salad or a meal.

Preserve Food

The best preserved food is made from ingredients that are picked and canned or bottled at their peak of ripeness  –– To open a jar and eat a spoonful of blueberry jam in mid-winter is to taste the summer in which it was made. Even Napoleon, not known for being the world’s most sensuous guy, seemed to understand this on a gut level. After all, it was he who offered an award for the person who could invent a way of preserving food for his armies. That, in turn, led to the modern practice of “canning”, making and preserving jams and other foods to eat all year long. If you still have berries, make my favorite triple berry jam. Berries gone? Then it’s time for yummy apple butter.

Jars of homemade jam make great gifts that recipients know are from your kitchen and your heart. Decorate the jars by tying on a custom gift card with a pretty ribbon. Or make a simple jar topper, which finishes a jar of jam in an especially old-fashioned and pleasing way. Instructions at the bottom of this post.

Preserve Memories with Your Family and in Your Home

Small items can have a lot of power. Did you collect sea shells, rocks, beach glass, trip souvenirs or other items? Have fun creating a display of them that you can enjoy all year long. Or make a mobile of your sea shells by poking holes into them with needles, stringing them on fishing line, and attaching the fishing line to sticks. Frame and hang a map from one of your favorite summer locales. Frame or make an album of vacation or summer photos and view them as a family on a winter’s day. Have family members share their favorite summer memories with one another. You may be surprised at everyone’s picks!

Gaze at the Stars

Even though summer’s Perseid meteor shower tends to get all the glory, fall and winter offer some of the best star shows of the year. If conditions are right, you’ll want to bundle up, make some hot chocolate, pull up a comfortable chair, and look through binoculars, a telescope, or the good ol’ naked eye at the Geminids, or the Leonids, or enjoy the marvelous constellations year-round.

Play Games

My summer memories often involve playing games. There seems to be more time in summer for family play, both indoors and out. Try to keep the lightness in your family and your schedule that allows for play. Play is vital for children’s development and family bonding, and is downright fun! Try these fun playground games.

Indoors? Have a family game night and play one of our favorite card games, Slapjack (instructions at the end of the post.)

Foster a Summer Mindset

In addition to warm weather, summer is often special because families approach the season with mindfulness and joy. Try unplugging or continuing to unplug earlier in the day and more often to create family time. Take walks in nature and play indoor and outdoor games, no matter the season. Keep the calendar as light as possible, even if it means saying “no” to some things or scheduling in family time. Treasure the small moments, which just may become big memories.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. 

–– Albert Camus

Mango Lassi

People in India and around Southeast Asia have been drinking lassis (pronounced “luh-sees”), sweet or spicy yogurt-based drinks, for thousands of years. And, with colorful lassi stands on streets all over the subcontinent, their popularity shows no sign of letting up. For good reason. This cooling drink is great after a spicy meal or on a hot day. It works as a breakfast or a dessert. The yogurt base (traditionally a dahi, which is closer to a curd) is said to enhance digestion. And the offering of a lassi is a gesture of friendship. Yes, all this from a drink.

1 c. plain yogurt

½ c. milk

1 c. frozen mango cubes, slightly thawed

1 Tbsp. sugar

¼ tsp. ground cardamom

dash of nutmeg, if desired

Note: the yogurt and milk can be full-fat, no-fat, or anything in between.

You can make this drink with one medium fresh mango and add ½ c. of crushed ice, if desired. You can also make a berry lassi by substituting frozen berries for the mango, or season the drink with cumin or mint.

Place all ingredients except nutmeg in a blender and puree for two minutes or until the mixture is smooth and any chunks of frozen mango are fairly small.

Pour into tall glass.

Shake nutmeg on top, if desired.

Serves 1

Hand Shadow Puppets

Rabbit – Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk – Link your thumbs together, with hands facing away from you. Stretch your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider – Cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or Dog – Place your palms together, fingers facing away from you. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinky drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel – Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinky and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

Jam Jar Topper

You’ll need:

Fabric pieces (fat quarters used for quilting work well)
Pinking shears or scissors
Rubber band
Ribbon (enough for the circumference of the lid, plus approx. 8”)
Glue, optional

Cut a circle of fabric, approx. ¾” larger all-around than the jar band.

If desired, place a dot of glue onto the top of the lid, and place the fabric onto it.

Secure the fabric with a rubber band.

Tie the ribbon around the rubber band to cover, and tie it into a bow.

Attach a gift card or jar label, if desired.

Slapjack

The Deal: Cards are all dealt, one at a time, to all players. It doesn’t matter if some players have more cards than others.

Object: To win all the cards, by being first to slap each jack as it is played to the center.

Players take turns lifting one card from his or her pile and placing it face up in a common pile at the center of the table. Players must be careful not to see their own cards first. Whenever a jack is turned, the first player to slap it takes all the cards in the common pile and places them in his or her own pile.

When more than one player slaps at a jack, the one whose hand is directly on top of the jack wins the pile. If a player slaps at any card in the center that is not a jack, he must give one card, face down, to the player of that card. When a player has no more cards left, he remains in the game until the next jack is turned. He may slap at the jack in an effort to get a new pile. If he fails to win that next pile, he is out of the game. Play continues until one player has won all the cards.

 

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Back to School: 9 Tips for Taming Fall Frenzy

Seven Ways to Make Summer Last Longer

Back to School: 9 Tips for Taming Fall Frenzy

The flood of school-related papers seems to come earlier each year – the “first day” packets, the emergency and permission forms, the sports and other schedules. The start of school seems earlier, too — it’s up to mid-August in my neck of the woods.

A peruse around the internet shows that I’m not alone in feeling dismay at the loss of the long and leisurely summer. Parents in Chicago and Newburyport, MA, successfully lobbied their school districts to start school after Labor Day.  Legislators in many states hotly debate back-to-school dates each year.

Hopefully, you were fortunate to have had some leisurely family time this summer. Or, at the very least, some time free from homework, schedules, transportation, meetings, appointments, a busy calendar and a frazzled household. No matter when Back-to-School hits for you, it can be a challenge to keep the pace and spirit of summer in your family. Here are a couple of ideas for taming Fall frenzy.

Create Unstructured Family Time

Consider turning down the occasional invitation or activity to ensure that your family has some time by itself. Then devote to that time by not answering the phone and emails, and putting away the electronics and the to-do list. Families need to regroup and simply have unstructured time together – to play, to talk, to inadvertently create the small instances that go into the family memory bank. It is the little things that tend to bond families, and these often occur during unstructured time. This can be time to explore a craft or make music, just for the fun of it – in contrast to being in “achievement mode”. It can be a time to have a family game night or be outside in nature, to tell stories that meander as you do, or to merely observe the world. In earlier cultures, it was more common for people to take a break from the everyday. Today, in our 24/7 world, we sometimes have to create that time for ourselves and our families, in order to refresh, as well as re-engage with one another. If need be, schedule a family night on the calendar.

Eat As Many Meals As Possible Together

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. Mealtimes are often the only times families have together. It can be incredibly grounding to just sit down all together at the end of the day and share triumphs and thoughts. It can take some planning to find the time between activities and work for everyone to come together, as well as the time to plan and prepare meals. If you enjoy cooking, doing so as a family can provide fun bonding time. If not, aim to keep weeknight meals simple and buy what you need for a few meals at once, to keep cooking and shopping times down, as well as costs. You can also make double batches of food, and then have the leftovers the next night. Or pick up take-out food on your way back into the house. While home-cooked meals are great, the time spent together is even more vital.

Spend Time in Nature Together

Nature’s schedule is so much broader than our busy one, that one can’t help but gain a little perspective simply by being outside. And, chances are that when you’re outside as a family, you’re getting some fresh air, physical beauty and exercise, which enliven the spirit as well as help create healthy habits for everyone. For some children, nature is where they feel happiest, and there are plenty of ways to enhance their experience of nature, whether through creating poetry or art out of what is observed, collecting items to display at home, playing games like Tag and Hide ‘n Seek, building forts, watching the stars, or telling stories and playing word games together while on walks. Other families might enjoy biking, rollerblading or water sports as a way to be active together and do something a bit special. Chances are, even if you live in a city, there’s a bit of nature nearby. Looking for ideas? Check out the Children & Nature Network.

Cultivate Friendships With All Different People

Have people in your life who are different ages than you, or whom you don’t know through your child. Sometimes what gets lost as a parent is a sense of who we are as people, and others – with whom me might share non-parenting interests – can help us reconnect with that part of ourselves and with a broader range of interests and ideas than may be prevalent in the immediate circle of school. People who don’t have school-age children may be less harried themselves, so that you can’t help but slow down in their presence. Perhaps there is a neighbor or friend with whom your family would enjoy taking a walk or doing a craft. Especially if there are no grandparents nearby, a relationship with someone older can be a wonderful, life-enlarging experience for a child. Many senior facilities welcome young visitors with a parent. Performing a service, such as visiting a shut-in, is an excellent way to slow down, gain perspective and make a friend.

Say “No” to More Things

We parents don’t have to volunteer to take on more at work, or to serve on every school committee that needs us. Periodically assess your needs and your output and, if something is out of balance, readjust. Likewise, children don’t have to sign up for a lot of activities. Often, children are over-scheduled to the point of creating stress for the whole family. Perhaps explore one or two activities at a time, and carefully consider costs and benefits before adding any new ones. It may help to assure yourself that it is usually not the last opportunity for your child to enjoy ballet or soccer. More pleasure may come from devotion to one thing at a time.

Evaluate Your Own Desires

Are you signing your child up for activities you would have liked for yourself? While exposure to many things is delightful and, indeed, a luxury, too much of a good thing can backfire. Try to be clear about whether your own needs or anxieties about your child’s achievement are fueling a desire to over-schedule activities. Often what children want, when asked, is simply more unstructured time with their siblings, friends or parents.

Make Time for Yourself and Your Spouse

This is often the first thing that gets bumped off the list of priorities. Adults who are burned out have no resources left for their children. Perhaps, having cleared more time for family time, some self and couple time can emerge as well. If need be, schedule time to spend alone, as a couple, or with friends from other parts of your life, even if you can only do so once a month. Consider doing more family activities that, while age-appropriate, are not necessarily child-focused. Sometimes children come along on our activities more readily than we expect them to, and the results can be rewarding for everyone.

Get Enough Sleep

Missing out on sleep puts everyone in a bad mood, which can add to daily stress. Try to have a regular bedtime for children and for yourself. If work remains to be done into the night, tell yourself it can wait until tomorrow. If there’s time, a nice routine before bed, such as reading out loud (to children of any age) can be calming and put a nice cap on the day, which helps everyone get to sleep better.

Let Children be Children

Sometimes, in our rush toward achievement, we forget what it is like to be a child. Childhood still lasts about 18 years, which leaves plenty of time for  structured activities. Some unstructured time for children (to be alone, as well as with the family) is desirable. Don’t be afraid to let your child have down time, to daydream or explore on his or her own. To even — be bored. Every activity doesn’t have to lead to a future goal. And every moment doesn’t have to provide outside entertainment. In fact, our tendency to over-schedule and over-stimulate children can create undue stress for them, as well as the inability to simply entertain themselves, play freely, tolerate stillness, or discover their own inner compasses — who they are and what they like to do.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

These tips were adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities and slowing techniques. This post also appeared in Frugal Mama.

Seven Ways to Make Summer Last Longer

While many of us are preparing our kids to go back to school, the calendar and weather still signal summer. The days are longer, our to-do lists are less crowded. Even if you never let go of frenzy for summer, or you’re feeling it now as you gear up for fall, there are a few small shifts that can really help you lighten up to match the remaining summer season, while also helping squeeze more true pleasure from this joyous time of year.

Make a Summer Bucket List

For many, summer conjures beach days, county fairs, gazing at the stars, planting flowers, playing flashlight tag, or making simple crafts. What else would you and your family really like to have done by the time Labor Day comes around? Make a summer bucket list of ideas and hang it where you can see it, or write each idea on a piece of paper or a popsicle stick and place those in a bucket. Have one family member choose an activity once or more per week for the rest of summer. Don’t feel like you have to do everything on the list – you can do many of your favorites another time.

Watch the Sun Rise or Set

The day naturally slows when we take the time to witness a dramatic and beautiful sunrise or sunset. Get comfortable, pay attention to the changing colors and light, and make a point to either greet or say goodbye to the day. This small act can be very grounding and gratifying to people of all ages, as it truly takes us out of the artificial time of clocks, calendars, emails and to-do lists, and into the rhythms of nature and the comforting, yet awe-inspiring, turning of the Earth.

Make Time for Down Time

Many of us are uncomfortable with empty spaces on the calendar. As difficult as it may be, and as enriching as many choices are, try to resist the urge to schedule every moment of summer. Kids actually need play time, down time and family time in order not only to recharge, but also to fully thrive. In addition, they don’t need to be constantly entertained. Free time, and even boredom, has produced wonderful innovations and insights. It is often during quiet time that many children make unique discoveries, including the directions of their own inner compasses. If down time doesn’t come naturally to you, schedule some into your calendar. This can be especially important as everyone gears up for a busier season.

Be Present and Do One Thing at a Time

Have you ever noticed that kids are usually not doing and thinking about multiple things at once? This is one area in which we can probably learn from them. Many of us parents would be surprised by how much our kids just want to be with us, and how our multitasking makes them feel. In studies of hundreds of kids over five years, Dr. Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, unearthed countless stories of children feeling neglected by their parents for media.

Try to compartmentalize your work and other tasks, so that they don’t invade precious time with your family. Because of the allure of electronics, we often have to turn our devices off as well, so that we can devote our attention to the people we’re with and the activities we’re doing without being distracted by alerts and the occasional itchy-fingered desire to check in with the electronic world.

Give Your Electronics the Day Off

Electronic media is so incredibly seductive for people of all ages that sometimes we need to take things a step further and formally unplug for a period of time in order to experience our families, selves and time. Follow the direction of most of the world’s religions and cultures and call a scheduled day of rest each week, for a day, a night, or a few hours. If you’re constantly plugged in, it can be very enlightening to see what happens when you get quiet, and also when you do get back to media. It is usually emergency-free and easier to get back into the flow of work and communication than we envision.

In addition, many TV shows contain anxiety-provoking images and messages. Try cutting out one or more TV shows per week and substituting them with a family walk or game.

Be a Tourist in Your Town

We often think we have to engage in awesome (read expensive) summer vacation travel, when sometimes the simplest experiences can prove the most delightful, especially for younger children. Get up early one day and watch the stores and businesses in your town receive their deliveries and come alive. Visit your nearest large city and partake in a true tourist activity that you’ve never done before. Walk or ride bikes as a family in a new neighborhood. You may be surprised by just how much fun everyone has, trying new things and seeing local surroundings with fresh eyes. If you have younger ones and do have time when others go back to school, that can be a great time to explore a city without the summer tourists.

Enjoy Your Family

Summer often means extended time with your family and with that inevitably comes some days that are more trying than others. Try to keep in mind that this phase will pass, summer only comes once a year, and the kids will only be this age once. If having other parents around helps, participate in group activities, either with a buddy or through a structured program. Relish the good times and the memories you’re forming now. Chances are that summer’s smallest moments will be the ones you regard with the most fondness later.

A version of this post originally appeared in Dot Complicated.

These tips were adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ tips and fun family activities.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

8 Fun Things to Do While it’s Still Summer
Summer Family Fun: Make and Experiment with Giant Homemade Bubbles
Tidepooling with Kids: Explore Undersea Creatures
Stir Up Some Triple Berry Jam

12 Fun Family Activities for Screen Free Week

When I speak to families about slowing down and enjoying family time, one of the things that comes up over and over is screen time. Screens dominate many of our lives, often to a greater degree than we wish. While many of us parents can attest to the addictive nature of technology, we struggle with ways to reduce it in our children’s lives.

It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed April 29 – May 5 to be Screen-Free Week. Sometimes this kind of added incentive is all we need to inspire us to action. More than once, parents have told me that their children’s favorite memories include episodes of family game nights by fire- or candlelight during power outages. You can create your own “power outage” by participating in Screen-Free Week. And, even if you don’t go completely screen-free, you might want to pledge an hour or so a day or night to have some good screen-free fun. Who knows? That fun might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 ways to celebrate Screen Free Week:

Make a Paper Boat and sail it in a creek, pond or bathtub.

Make a Bird Feeder. Our local birds have gone nuts for ours and we plan to make more.

Make easy Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets to celebrate May Day.

Enjoy Loom and Finger Weaving. You can do this anywhere!

Keep a Moon Diary as a way of observing the night sky.

Slow your pace and have a Cloud Race.

Get a jump on summer by making S’Mores. Camp under the stars if it’s warm enough.

Start a Backyard Garden.

Bake your own Soft Pretzels. These are really easy and fun.

Play a different fun board game every night. We like Boggle, Sorry, Taboo, Pictionary, Scrabble, Mancala, Masterpiece, Monopoly and Hi-Ho Cherry O.

Discover The Joy of Quiet.

And, if you’re really missing your screen? Make your own Shoebox TV!

You’ll need:

Shoebox or a square-shaped box and lid
Cardboard tubes, from paper towels, foil or plastic wrap, or wooden dowels
4-10 pieces of printer paper (8 ½ x 11”)
Drawing materials
Scissors, craft knife and tape

Cut a large opening for the TV screen into the bottom of the box, leaving an even border of 1” or more all around.

Holding the box horizontally, cut two holes on the top, each about 2” the side and 2” back from the cut-out section. Your dowels or cardboard tubes should fit into the holes.

Cut two bottom holes that line up with the top ones.

Cut the cardboard tubes, if necessary, so that about ½ “ sticks out on the bottom and 1-2” on top.

Decide on a story you want to tell that primarily uses pictures.

Place the paper horizontally (cutting, if necessary, to fit the tube length) and draw one picture on each page, adding words, if desired. Leave at least 1” on each paper edge and at least 2” on the left edge of the first picture and the right edge of the last picture.

Lay the pictures out, left to right, in the order they will appear. Turn them over and, keeping the order, run a piece of tape down each back seam where two pictures come together.

Tape each end of the paper story scroll around a tube or dowel and roll  on the back sides of the scroll, so that the paper image is at the front of the tubes and the paper is tight and sized to the box.

Place the tubes into the holes and place the lid on the back. Decorate the front of the TV, if desired.

Gently turn the tubes to make the pictures move.

Slow Tip: You can also use images from magazines or comic-books to create your story.

You can make multiple story scrolls and change them through the back of the box. In doing so, you’ll join nearly every ancient civilization in telling stories using scrolls, starting with the Egyptians, who created them on papyrus.

The Shoebox TV craft is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more ways to enjoy screen-free family fun.

 Related posts from Slow Family Online:

Eight Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer

Six Fun Family Activities to Enjoy This Weekend

Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Graphic: Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

New Book Helps Families Slow Down

Many of us want more joy and connection in our family and daily lives. We often don’t quite know how to achieve those things, and the process of even beginning to do so can seem daunting. Enter Slow Family Living: 75 Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect, and Create More Joy, the beautiful new book from Slow Family Living co-founder Bernadette Noll.

Just reading Bernadette’s book makes me feel calm and confident that I can make the small changes necessary to have a more fulfilling family life. Her voice is reasoned and experienced, and her suggestions are each presented in short chapters that describe an activity or practice that can result in greater family closeness. The first step, according to Bernadette? Ask yourself and your family:

Is this working for us?

So often, in family life, we do things because they’ve been declared a “tradition” (Bernadette offers a funny tale about this), or because we feel obligated to take on an activity or do something the standard way. Once you’ve determined whether something is working or not, you can set about changing what needs to be changed.

The activities in the book range from practices like pausing, expressing appreciation, active listening, and letting weekends be half-full, to ideas for keeping family life fun like spontaneous game nights, family journals and billboards, lemonade stands, and making stuff together, which is the title and topic of Bernadette’s fantastic first book about art as a means of expression, fun and family and community bonding.

Community bonds also figure in this book, and I love the ideas for slowing as a community by having dinners together and playing sports together, as alternatives to every-family-for-themselves, on one hand, and over-organized league sports, on the other. In both cases, Bernadette illustrates how her community came together to provide something richer, and more fun, than the traditional offerings did. The community dinners involved various children and families in a novel way. The family “sports league” alleviated excess driving to various sports events for different members of the family and provided space for everyone to play together, adults included.

You will get a lot of ideas from Slow Family Living, both big-picture and everyday, that will make you pause and reflect, and will help you lead a more connected and joyful family life.

You might also be interested in:

Make Stuff Together, 24 Simple Projects to Create as a Family
The Blessings of a Slow Family
Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood into a Place for Play
Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World

New Year’s Resolutions and Gratitude Lists

Many of us make new years resolutions. Irresistible to those of us who like an occasional “fresh start”, the tradition of new years resolutions goes back 4,000 years, all the way to ancient Babylonia. At that time, the new year occurred at the vernal equinox, the start of spring, and many Babylonians resolved to make good on their word and return borrowed farm equipment, so their neighbors could begin the new year of farming.

Making resolutions can be a powerful act. Doing so encourages us to slow down, take stock of the year, and think about what we’d like to change or create in the coming year. Before Anna was born, Michael and I started a tradition of writing our resolutions on paper and then burning them in the fireplace, a ritual we have continued to do as a family. Young children can write something they wish to take with them in the new year and something they wish to leave behind. Resolutions and wishes can be burned in a fire, or kept in journal or a wish jar. (See Wish Jar instructions, below.)

Because the new year is a time of transition, some people, especially kids, may enjoy looking back at the past year, as well as forward into the new one. After all, the Roman god Janus, who was said to rule beginnings, transitions, doorways and time, was often depicted with two faces so he could look back and forward at once.

Gratitude Lists

One way to look back at the year is to make a gratitude list. What are you grateful for from the past year? Often our gratitude list includes things we’d like to carry with us or create more of in the coming year. The list can also be kept in a jar (below), or written in a journal or on a poster. Another fun idea? Start a journal or list of things you’re grateful for on New Years Day, or place gratitude notes in a jar, to be opened on New Years Eve next year.

My dear husband gave me this journal at the end of 2005. He wrote in it every week throughout the year.

My own gratitude list includes:
A family that laughs a lot
Good friends
Hugs
A Costa Rican adventure
A growing blog readership
The smell of clean laundry
The air after it rains
Strawberries
Tulips
Clouds
Vintage anything
Old cities and brick signs
Trains
Tomatoes
Beaches
Hats and gloves
Hopeful new immigrants
Energy
Creativity
Good health
A warm house
Meaningful work
A new book
Books and book stores
Holidays
Traditions
Amusement parks
County fairs
Swing music
Salsa Music
Colors
Babies
Curlicues
Road trips
Biking
Fresh food
Pumpkins
A smile from a stranger
Daffodils
Wildflowers
Snow-capped mountains
Starry nights
Wonder

..to name a few things

What’s on your gratitude list?

Happy New Year!

Want to read more? Check out:

New Year’s Traditions Around the World and at Home

Honor Your Family with Fun Gratitude Crafts

Make a Wish Jar

You’ll need:

Strips of paper
Pen
Jar and lid
Paint, fabric, ribbon, rickrack, letters cut from magazine pages, or other items, as desired
Primer, optional
Screwdriver, hammer and cardboard, or box cutter, optional.

Decorate your jar. You may want to prime and paint the jar lid and tie a ribbon or fabric bow around the neck.

If you want to make a slit in the lid for papers, place the lid over a piece of cardboard and carefully cut with the box cutter or hammer a screwdriver into it, in a straight line. You can also just open the jar to insert wishes.

Put the papers into the jar and place it somewhere you see often or somewhere you can check in on or add to over time.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Gratitude jar by The Healthy Ginger

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Make Noisemakers to Welcome the New Year

Celebrate the New Year with Traditions from Around the World and at Home

Make This a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

For many of us, the holidays bring frenzy and stress. Budgets and available time and resources are stretched. We schedule so many activities that we become tired and unable to enjoy all of them. We spend extraordinary amounts of our time in crowded stores, parking lots and post offices. Why? Because we internalize societal messages that tell us we have to give our families a “perfect” holiday, which means taking advantage of every possible option and gift, often at the expense of true family meaning and fun.

How can we take back our holiday seasons?

Set a family intention for the holiday season

Intentions are extremely powerful. It will help you and your family if you determine and express exactly what you do want this holiday season. What is important to the family? Time spent together at home or out at parties? A family vacation? Treasured traditions (and which ones)? A shower of gifts? Discuss your intentions as a family and perhaps arrive at some new ones.

Question or limit consumerism

This act will help many families derail stress. Decide on a gift limit, say one or two per person. Offer to forgo traditional gifting with extended family members or office mates. Instead, try something fun like a “Secret Santa” activity, in which participants choose names from a hat and gift that one person a gift, instead of every person in the group. Other things you can do include supporting local small businesses and artisans, and choosing gifts that will get a great deal of use because they inspire creative play or exploration, or even gifts of time and activities.

Be a holiday tourist

Limiting consumerism doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy commercial holiday fun. Lots of towns and cities employ beautiful shop windows and other holiday and light displays. Find one near you and see how much more you and your family enjoy them when you’re not rushing by with a lengthy shopping list.

Visit your favorite holiday traditions, or create new (and inexpensive) ones

Holiday time can be extremely meaningful and memorable. Often, family memories are deepened when they attach to repeated fun rituals. These can include enjoying a holiday play, pageant, ice show or staging of a ballet such as the Nutcracker each year; attending a holiday tea; addressing cards together; making your own gift wrap; decorating your home; putting out cookies for Santa; enjoying holiday movies or books; playing old-fashioned games by firelight; playing in the snow; taking a holiday walk; or one of our frugal favorites, enjoying local holiday light and decoration displays. (These are often published in local papers.)

Gather for crafting and food

Holidays offer plenty of gathering time. Why not gather around fun, homemade activities? Make food together that is unique to the season, such as egg nog, apple butter, latkes or holiday cookies. Host a cookie exchange, to which guests each bring 4 dozen cookies and an empty container. Put all the cookies on a table and have guests walk around the table, taking one of each until the cookies are gone. (Serve guests a hearty or potluck meal before the cookie exchange, if you’d like.) Or make a gingerbread house or simple crafts like doily snowflakes. (Instructions below.)

Get outdoors

Often we get so carried away with some aspects of the holidays that we miss others. Holiday time can be a lovely time to enjoy nature. Often there are less other people on the walking trails and in the parks. Live in a snowy place? Make a Snowman Kit and keep it handy: Collect and store together coal pieces, rocks, or buttons for eyes, and woolens such as a knit cap, scarf, and mittens. Have carrots handy in the fridge. When the snow hits, take your kit outside and create your snowman, adding branches, twigs, evergreen boughs, and other items.

Celebrate the winter solstice

The winter solstice provides a special opportunity to slow down during the hectic holiday season. Take a walk or have a family game night on the year’s longest night. Celebrate the sun’s return by making or eating sun- colored foods, such as oranges and frosted yellow cupcakes. Place gold-covered toys or chocolate
coins in bags and surprise children with them at night or during the morning after the solstice. Take a walk together at sunrise to greet the return of longer days.

Say no to some activities

As you’re saying yes to some of these new, fun activities, you might find yourself needing to say no to others. Do you really have to attend every office, school and neighborhood party or event? Decide which activities truly give you pleasure and try to guiltlessly skip the ones that don’t. The same goes for holiday cooking, decorating and other activities. If something isn’t pleasurable, no matter how much it fits into your idea of a “perfect” holiday, opt to do something you enjoy instead.

Give to someone less fortunate

There are many opportunities to serve and give over the holidays. Help at a local food kitchen, or participate in a toy or book drive. Or consider gifting in a recipient’s name to a worthy non-profit or other organization. These gifts may have much greater meaning than additional trinkets or things for families that have plenty.

 

Paper or Doily Snowflakes
These snowflakes grace our windows each winter.

You’ll need:
• Doilies, or paper in circle or square shapes
• Scissors
• Ribbon, optional

Fold a doily or paper circle in half, then in half again, and then
in half again, resulting in eight wedge- shaped layers, or fold a
square piece of paper in half to form a triangle shape, then in
half again. Then fold both halves of the triangle in toward the
middle, so that there is one pointy top, with the pieces overlapping,
and two pointy ends sticking down. Trim the bottom to
cut the pointy ends off.

Cut out small shapes along the folds or ends, such as triangles,
half circles, or swirling edges.

Unfold the paper and enjoy your snowflake. You may wish to
string many snowflakes together on a piece of ribbon to create
a garland decoration.

Craft adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

Honor Your Family With Fun Gratitude Crafts

When many of us count our blessings, we often start with our own families. After all, those in our immediate and extended family are usually the people we are with the most, through small moments and larger triumphs, and those who mean the most to us. Celebrating family with fun crafts allows us to find expression for our gratitude and can allow family members to feel uniquely appreciated. These crafts can also be a way to pass on family lore, while providing children with a fuller sense of who they are and their place in their family and in the global community.

Create an Appreciation “Recipe” for a Mom or Another Special Person

I got this lovely idea from my Anna’s  4th grade teacher, D. J. Mitchell. It’s very easy and fun to do, and it conveys a special relationship and feelings that may be otherwise hard to articulate. Help your child create a recipe for a “marvelous mom” or a “delightful dad” or a “fabulous friend” or any other combination using an adjective and the person’s name or role.

You’ll need:
• Piece of construction paper or poster board
• Markers and crayons or colored pencils
• Ruler

Think about the attributes of the recipient that make him or her special.

Write a heading on the paper: Recipe for a (fabulous friend or other).

Using a ruler, draw six or more lines on which to write your various ingredients.

Write the “ingredients” for the person, in recipe terms, such as “6 cups kindness,” “5 tablespoons love,” or whatever else you can think of.

Leave space at the bottom to write out your instructions, also using recipe terms, like mix, add, fold, blend, and so on.

Decorate the rest of the paper, as desired.

Here is Anna’s “recipe”:

Make a Personal or Family Crest or Coat of Arms

Since the seventh century in Japan and the twelfth century in Europe, families, individuals, countries, states, schools, knights, clergy, and others have used decorative and distinctive coats of arms, or family crests, to identify themselves or their clans. It’s a wonderful tradition that can be adapted in a lighthearted way to proclaim or discover individual or family identities and interests.

You’ll need:
• Paper
• Colored pencils, crayons, markers, paints, or other drawing
implements
• Ribbons, scrap paper and fabric, glitter, and other decorative
items, as desired
• School or craft glue
• Frame, optional

Draw the outline of a shield shape, which resembles a pointed shovel.

Draw lines inside of the shield to divide it into various regions. It is common for crests to have 4-6 sections. You may want to give each family member a section.

Inside each section, draw or write the name of one or more things that you enjoy doing or that you like about yourself or your family. If you’d like, leave a space inside the crest, or below it, to write the family name.

Color and decorate the items and the background of the crest. Most crests are elaborate, with lots of decorative items and flourishes.

Frame or display your unique crest.

If you’d like, try this coat of arms template.

 

You might also like:
Make an Altar to Honor Ancestors for Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead

Giving Thanks: Express Gratitude with Crafts, Food, Fun and Contemplation

Rhythm of the Home: The Blessings of a Slow Family

I am thrilled and honored to have a piece, The Blessings of a Slow Family, in the Autumn edition of Rhythm of the Home. I have been a fan of this beautiful magazine since its inception. (I have a piece in the Autumn 2010 Rhythm of the Home on Making a Fall Leaf Placemat.) It never fails to fill me with inspiration and beauty — photos are stunning, projects and tips are inspiring, and the contributors are uniformly engaging, wise and warm.

This is a hint of my story, which outlines many of the ways my family has found to honor the changing seasons, the rhythms of each day, and the community around us, through ritual, craft, nature and more.

When my family made a conscious choice to slow down, and reduce modern life’s typical pace, what we really did was get better in touch with rhythms and practices that have more in common with the turning wheel of the day and the year than with the artificial markers of the typical school and social year, not to mention the standard expectations about children’s development that don’t always fit our own children.

Because our modern culture can be poor at creating space for and then honoring life events and the movement of time, we have to create those rituals and activities for ourselves. Fortunately, my family found many ways to do that.

You can continue reading The Blessings of a Slow Family.

There are far too many delightful pieces in the Autumn Rhythm of the Home to list. I hope you will explore the issue for yourself. As for me:

I can’t wait to make these Reusable Sandwich Bags. I also love the Autumn Watercolor Crafts. And this is a very easy and original idea for a Shadow Puppet Show.

I am also eager to Have a Butterfly Celebration when the Monarchs return to their winter home.

This Autumn Pizza with Roasted Fig and Apples looks fantastic, and I’ve long wanted to try making Homemade Ricotta Cheese. I also really appreciate and believe in Using the Kitchen as a Place to Bond.

I am deeply inspired by The Story of an Apple, Nature Lovers, Four Fall Simplicity Seeds, 10 Steps Toward Getting the Break you Need, and A Season of Rebirth.

I am always moved by Erin Goodman and her thoughtful work and am thrilled that the issue features an Interview with Erin Barrette Goodman.

Even with all that, I have only hinted at the goodness in this issue of Rhythm of the Home. Do yourself a favor: Brew your favorite cup of tea, settle into a cozy spot and see for yourself.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Day: Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Last January Wired Magazine ran a story on the Five Best Toys of All Time. Which toys did the high-tech, gadget-and-gizmo friendly magazine (or at least the Geek Dad section) name as the best? The stick, the box, string, the cardboard tube, and dirt. Not an electronic toy in the bunch. And, even more, all of these are simple, available (if not free), and provide open-ended play. Two are found in nature.

The internet went nuts with this story, as person after person — parents, teachers, nature advocates, play experts, and people who simply sense that today’s children grow up too quickly — passed this story around. With all the holiday advertising and shopping, and all the craze for the flashiest and the latest, a writer was advocating that kids go play in the dirt.

When Anna was small, I noticed that she was happy for hours with simple things — dirt, water, grass, a tire swing, paper, scissors, glue. She spent about a year being fascinated with adhesive tape — pulling, cutting and laying it down on paper, creating cardboard box-and-tube cameras and “candy machines”.  She didn’t seem to need or want anything more expensive, complicated or “educational” than that. I’ve found this is often the case if we slow down, adjust our ideas about what is normal or expected, and let our children and our own instincts guide us.

On the heels of the Wired story came another one: The Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University released the results of its 2011 TIMPANI (Toy to Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) study. Each year they name a “best toy” based on three categories: thinking and learning; cooperation and social interaction; and self-expression and imagination.

This year’s winner? The nearly 10o-year-old Tinkertoy Construction Set. Said the study’s principal researcher, “Basic, open-ended toys tend to be more beneficial to children’s play and learning than some of the more elaborate and commercial toys that are on the market.” The Tinkertoy designers, after all, created their toy after seeing children play imaginatively with pencils and empty spools of thread.

The article goes on to point out that open-ended toys foster cooperation and communication, with peers as well as with parents:

Through play, you can provide your child with the support needed to learn and grow, to learn how to learn, and to get needs met in safe, appropriate ways.

I’ve often bonded through play and creating with my family, and I’ve seen scores of children be happier and more engaged when playing with open-ended toys.

You may also be interested in:
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

Photo: Melissa Gutierrez

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