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Beyond Thanksgiving: 9 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in our Families

Thanksgiving presents families with wonderful opportunities to express gratitude. The traditional Thanksgiving meal offers a pause from the everyday and a rare chance to gather with the express purpose of giving thanks. But what happens when Thanksgiving is over? In the U.S., the holiday season officially begins, and with it often comes a great deal of pressure and stress. We mean well, of course. We yearn to create the perfect holiday for our families, complete with a plethora of gifts. But at what price? Gratitude? Meaning? Joy? Much of that is forgotten soon after the turkey has cooled.

How do we cultivate a spirit of gratitude in our families, during the holidays and year-round, and ensure that it is not just something we proclaim during Thanksgiving?

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What is Gratitude and How Does it Benefit Us?

It might help to take a step back to explore gratitude and its benefits. The Greater Good Science Center defines gratitude as having two components. The first is an affirmation of the gifts and benefits we have received. The second is an acknowledgement that the sources of those gifts exist outside of ourselves, that we have benefited from other people—or even higher powers, if that fits your belief system.

That second part is key, say the folks at Greater Good, because its social component heightens meaningful connections with others and stimulates our circuits for pleasure and reward. It also helps with entitlement issues by reinforcing to kids that happiness is a gift from others, rather than an inherent birthright.

People of all ages who practice gratitude consistently report a range of physical, psychological and social benefits, from stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure to more joy, optimism and compassion, and less loneliness. Cultivating gratitude, and the happiness that results, is a skill we can teach our children.

9 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Keep a gratitude journal

The simple act of recording our gratitude in writing has been linked to benefits such as better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness for both adults and children. Have family members keep individual gratitude journals, or keep a list as a family. Write 3-5 short items weekly, naming the things you are grateful for. One exercise is to imagine what life would be like without those components. According to the Greater Good Science Center, journaling 1-2 times a week is actually more powerful than journaling daily. Focusing gratitude on people is more effective than focusing it on things. You may want to start journals on New Year’s Day and try to write in them throughout the year.

Practice expressing gratitude

Journaling won’t work for your family? Take time before or during meals to share things you are grateful for. The items can be profound or trivial. As with journaling, sharing needn’t occur every day. The important thing is that kids get into the habit of expressing gratitude regularly. Parents can model gratitude by letting other family members know that they are grateful for them and their specific actions.

Mornings and bedtimes also present abundant opportunities to express gratitude. Have young children greet the day by thanking the sun for rising, the air we breathe, the beautiful trees, and their family members, teachers or neighbors. You may wish to sing a thankful “Good Morning” song (see below). Many parents use bedtime as a quiet time for cuddling and asking children to name three things they’re grateful for.

Seeking another way to help kids express gratitude for others? See below for a fun gratitude craft.

Slow down and create family time

Studies show that play time, down time and family time are vital to kids’ and families’ well-being, benefiting every area of physical, psychological and emotional health.  Children who have unstructured time and play are more creative, collaborative, flexible, self-aware and calm. Families who have unstructured time and play are joyful and close. Slowing allows families to savor the positive feelings and events that are a hallmark of gratitude.

At holiday time and throughout the year, try to leave some down time in the schedule. That might mean reducing the number of activities each family member participates in, or turning down the occasional invitation.  It may take practice to put the same value on “down time” that we do on organized, goal-oriented activity. It may be uncomfortable at first to be idle. If you have to schedule this time in a calendar, do so.

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Be a tourist in your town

Have you ever noticed how tourists are usually delighted? Granted, they’re on vacation together and they have come to their destination to have fun. But they also see everything with fresh eyes. Even if you’ve lived somewhere your whole life, there may be new things to see or do if you decide to do so like a tourist. This is a particularly wonderful activity and mindset for school breaks, when kids are home. As a bonus, there are often special holiday events and activities, like decorated store windows and homes, skating rinks, free music performances, and other things that are joyful, without impacting the family budget.

Find adventure in your daily rounds

At any time of year, you can cultivate gratitude and stimulate positive social emotions by helping your kids see daily life as an adventure. Get up early one day and visit local businesses – watch produce and eggs get delivered to markets and restaurants, see bakers bake bagels and decorate cakes. Or take a walk and stop and say hello to neighbors, shopkeepers, mail carriers and others who are on their own daily rounds. Feeling a part of the neighborhood and community are very important to children’s senses of security and feelings of gratitude.

Along with thanks .. giving

Service is a tremendously enriching act, for ourselves and for others. Studies show that people who engage in “pro-social spending” are measurably happier than those who do not.  It’s not difficult to find an agency, event or individual in your area who would welcome your help, whether for one time or on an ongoing basis. Many people especially need our help over the holidays with meal preparation and delivery, toy and book drives, companionship, and other needs. Jewish Family and Children’s Services offers many volunteer opportunities for individuals and families.

Create a culture of giving in your family

Instead of giving traditional gifts, consider gifting in a recipient’s name to a non-profit or other organization. Research organizations as a family and involve your kids in choosing the most worthy and meaningful to them. Have your kids cull their rooms regularly for toys and clothing that can be donated to someone less fortunate, or have kids request that birthday party guests bring new or used toys or books for donation to the charity of his/her choice, and then deliver those items together. Consider setting aside a portion of your children’s allowances or gift money and having them choose a recipient for a donation.

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Get outdoors

At any time of year, and especially in winter, outdoor time tends to be low on many family’s priority lists. It shouldn’t be. Research shows that nature play has been linked to improved imagination, cooperation, academic achievement, and numerous aspects of physical and psychological health. Nature also provides a terrific setting in which to slow our paces and have new and meaningful experiences that can enhance family bonds, as well as the feelings of awe and wonder that lead to increased gratitude and inner peace.

Celebrate the winter solstice

The winter solstice (December 21 this year) provides a special opportunity to slow down, count our blessings, and experience the turning of the seasons during the hectic holiday time. Mark the year’s longest night by taking a walk, preparing a special meal or having a family game night. Celebrate the sun’s return by eating oranges or hollowing out the center of an orange and placing a tealight or candle inside. If you have leftover Hanukkah gelt or other chocolate coins, place them in bags and surprise children with them. Take a family walk on December 22 to greet the return of longer days.

Crafts and Songs

Appreciation “recipe” for a special person

This craft helps kids convey a special relationship and feelings in a fun, creative way. 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.

My daughter did this wonderful project with her fourth grade class. Here is her “recipe”:

Good Morning song (traditional Waldorf verse and movements)

Good morning dear Earth (lower hands toward floor)

Good morning dear Sun (raise arms into the air)

Good morning dear stones (place hands one atop the other)

And the plants, every one (open out hands, as if blossoming)

Good morning dear bees (move hand around in flying motion)

And the birds in the trees (move fingers like fluttering wings)

Good morning to you (hands out to others)

And good morning to me! (hands across own chest)

Susan Sachs Lipman (Suz) is the author of Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which grew out of her blog, Slow Family Online. Slow Parenting and the book were named a 2012 Top 10 Parenting Trend by TIME Magazine. Suz has written for the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, the Christian Science Monitor’s Modern Parenthood blog, and many other outlets. She is the Social Media Director for Parents Place, as well as the Children & Nature Network and Bookboard digital children’s library.


 

Holiday and Everyday Cranberry Pear Jam

Cranberries and pears are both such delicious and evocative fall and winter fruits that I was thrilled to find a jam recipe that combined them as wonderfully as this one. It’s sweet, with a little bite, and with its wonderful color, makes a fabulous spread or gift at holiday time or anytime. Making jam is one of my favorite family kitchen projects. It combines science, tradition, and the supreme satisfaction of the entire canning process, which lets you transform fruit into jam, before pleasingly pouring it into glass jars. My simple and delicious recipe for cranberry pear jam requires only four ingredients. It comes from Food in Jars, which is a great source for all things canning. Make it before the cranberries disappear for the season.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Other posts by Suz you might like:

Stir up Some Triple Berry Jam

Stir up (or cook down) some Colonial Apple Butter

The Bond of Blueberry Jam, Motherlode blog

Thanksgivukkuh: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Holiday

thanksgiving and hanukkah

For the first time since 1888, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will converge. That’s right, Thanksgivukkah! And we won’t get the chance to celebrate it again for 78,000 years. This calendar oddity has resulted in some really fun – and feasty – mash-ups. Buzzzfeed offers up potato latkes with cranberry applesauce and pecan pie rugalah. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade will feature a spinning dreidel balloon. There are menurkey menorahs, “challahday” cards and chocolate coins that read “gobble tov”. Sounds like a lot of fun, especially if the alternative is eight days of leftover turkey.

Why the alignment between the festival of fowl and the festival of lights?

So, why is this Hanukkah different from all others? While Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, Hanukkah is a moving target because it’s based on the lunar Hebrew calendar, which has 29-day months. The Hebrew calendar adds a 13th month every few years, to ensure that Passover is always celebrated in spring and the harvest festival of Sukkot in fall. This is why Hanukkah can swing from late November to late December. Thanks  to these quirks, November 28th is the latest possible day for Thanksgiving, and the earliest possible day for Hanukkah, which begins at sundown, November 27.  Though associated with Christmas because of its timing, some theologians are saying that the holiday has more in common with Thanksgiving, as both celebrate freedom from religious persecution. They also both feature a large food component (what’s a good holiday without that?) and offer plenty of opportunity for family fun.

How to Make the Most of Thanksgivukkah

Of course you will want delicious, celebratory, unusual food and fun. If you notice an emphasis on the sweet in these recipes, it’s because every holiday should contain much sweetness, as well a dollop of Hanukkah’s traditional oil.

Pumpkin Challah from the Jew and the Carrot

Potato Latkes topped with Turkey and Cranberry Chutney from Girl in the Little Red Kitchen

Apple Spiced Latkes with Cinnamon Yogurt Caramel Sauce from What Jew Wanna Eat

Pumpkin Kugel from Thanksgivukkah Boston

Manischewitz Brined Turkey from BuzzFeed

Challah Stuffing with Turkey Sausage, Leeks and Cherries from Little Ferraro Kitchen

Delicata Squash and Sage Biscuits from PBS Food. (These have nothing to do with Hanukkah, but they look so good I had to include them.)

Spiced Pumpkin Sufganiyots (Doughnuts for Hanukkah) with Turkey and Gravy or Turkey and Cranberry made to order from Zucker Bakery.

More Cranberry Filled Sufganivots (Doughnuts) from Thanksgivukkah Boston

Pecan Pie Rugelach from BuzzFeed

Chocolate Cranberry Cake with Gelt Glaze from What Jew Wanna Eat

Acorn Dreidels from Reci-Bee

The Menurkey (menorah turkey), the invention of 9-year-old Asher Weintraub

Thanksgivukkah Scarf from Zazzle

American Gothic Thanksgivukkah poster from Modern Tribe

Challahday Card from Manischewitz

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

A version of this post originally appeared on Bookboard

More Thanksgiving and Fall Fun from Slow Family:

Make a Beaded Corn Ear for Thanksgiving

31 Awesome Pumpkin Recipes

Make a Fall Leaf Placemat

How to Make an All American Apple Pie

Honor Your Family with Fun Gratitude Crafts

Let Nature Decorate Your Holiday Table

Stir up (or Cook Down) Some Colonial Apple Butter

Make A Beaded Corn Ear for Thanksgiving

I made these beaded corn ears with my daughter Anna’s Brownie Girl Scout troop for Thanksgiving when the girls were young. As with many bead projects, everyone enjoyed sitting around a table and creating them. They also enjoyed the finished products, each one a slightly different interpretation of corn.

You’ll need:
• Approximately 30 pony beads (9 mm or larger) in varied
corn colors, like yellow, brown, orange, ivory, and black
• 1 yard raffia or twine
• Scissors
• Pin back and glue, if desired.

Cut raffia or twine in two 18″ pieces.

Slide both pieces through one bead, so that the bead is right in the middle of each piece, and separate the four strands.

String seven beads onto each strand. The original bead will now be at the bottom of the “ear” of corn.

Slide one bead through the four strands at the top to pull them together.

Tie remaining raffia or twine into a bow.

Glue a pin back to the husk, if desired.

This activity and many others appear in 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 my daughter’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

How to Make: All-American Apple Pie

While I love to bake, and have made my share of crisps, tarts, cobblers and other fruit desserts, I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the double-crust pie. So when my daughter asked to make a classic apple pie for Thanksgiving, I thought, No time like the present to tackle the double-crust together.

It was fun! The result was a particularly yummy apple pie, a wonderful afternoon in the kitchen, a little pride, and the desire to bake all kinds of things with our newfound double-crusting ability.

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Here’s how you can make a classic apple pie.

For the crust:

2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 stick butter, chilled and cut in small pieces
5 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
6 Tbsp. ice water

For the filling:

1/2 – 3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. lemon peel
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 lbs. apples (approx. 5), cored, peeled and cut into thin slices.
(Galas or other less sweet cooking apples are a good choice.)
2 Tbsp. butter

Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon peel and lemon juice and let sit until the crust is prepared.

CRUST

Stir flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl.

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Add butter and shortening and, working quickly with a pastry blender or fingertips, combine until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

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Sprinkle on ice water, approx. 2 Tsbp. at a time, until dough sticks together.

Roll into a ball and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425.

Divide dough into pieces of 1/3 and 2/3 of the original.

On floured surface, roll large dough piece with a rolling pin until it is approx. 1/4 inch thick and large enough to fit into the pie plate bottom and sides.

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Gently work dough into the bottom of the pie plate. There should be a little bit of overhang over the lip of the plate.

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Fill with desired filling into a fairly rounded shape.

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To fill with apples, make one layer of apple slices. Slices can overlap. Then sprinkle with the sugar mixture. Add another layer of apples and sprinkle. Repeat if desired. When the last layer is done, dot at intervals with small pieces of butter.

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Roll out the remaining dough until it is approx. 1/4 inch thick and place it over the filling. Prick dough with a fork to let air out while the pie is cooking or cut out decorative shapes with a cookie cutter. (You can do this step while the dough is still on the work surface. You have to then place the top crust dough fairly evenly over the filling.) If you’d like, you can make decorative fork marks around the outside of the crust.

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Bake for approx. 40  minutes or until the crust is slightly browned and the fruit mixture is soft, even liquid in places.

Serve and enjoy!

Your pie may not last long! But you’ll be such an expert that you can whip up another.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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

Thanksgiving is upon us in the U.S. Even those who routinely feel and express gratitude have a sanctioned reason to pause and do so more profoundly than usual. Gratitude can transform one’s entire experience and outlook. It imbues relationships, observations and activities with awe and fullness and the realization that “this moment” — and our own unique collection of moments — is the best there is.

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The Thanksgiving holiday makes space for us to allow gratitude into our (often busy) lives in new ways and to pass that feeling on to our children. I’m very grateful for many things, including my wonderful and creative blogger friends who have taken the time to contribute their own ideas for gratitude and celebration.

While I love the smells of turkey cooking — in addition to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on T.V. — I also enjoy getting out in nature on Thanksgiving Day. Frugal Mama shares four make-ahead traditional Thanksgiving recipes that allow you to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, with all the trimmings, as well as some time away from the kitchen.

Pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving and Fall food and, while you can make it from scratch, this recipe using canned pumpkin, is extremely easy and makes a very tasty pie.

You can bake your own crust or use one of the pre-made ones, some of which are getting better and better tasting. Epicurious taste-tested pre-made pie crusts. Among their favorites is one of  mine, Whole Foods 365 Organic Pie Shells. Good Housekeeping also weighs in with their pre-made pie crust taste test.

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From Rhythm of the Home and Vintage Chica comes a beautiful Thankfulness Journal project.  Of course, this well-made felt-covered book would be a wonderful project to make, use and enjoy any time of year.

The same could be said of this equally inspiring and beautiful gratitude banner from Future Craft Collective. It’s fun and lovely in itself and wonderful in the way it allows family members to contemplate and formalize their gratitude.

 

Shoveling snow? Why not turn it into a fun and magical outdoor activity for you and your kids? That’s what Mel at Traveling Mel did. Her photos are delightful and inspiring, as always.

Bethe, the Grass Stain Guru, shares her own wonderful list of 10 things to be thankful for in nature.

I just had the good fortune to learn about the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, CA, which explores the science behind happiness and gratitude and the ways that we can nurture those brain pathways that promote them. According the the folks at Greater Good, happiness and gratitude can be learned and practiced traits.

Want more information about cultivating an attitude of gratitude? Gratitude Twenty Four Seven is just that – a very inspiring site from Jarl Forsman and Steve Sekhon full of daily tips and affirmations to help you be more grateful and fulfilled every day.

Arvind Devalia gives us some ideas about embracing what we already have.

My own gratitude list includes:
A family that laughs a lot
Good friends
The smell of clean laundry
The air after it rains
Strawberries
Tulips
Clouds
Vintage anything
Old cities
Trains
Tomatoes
Beaches
Hats and gloves
Hopeful new immigrants
Energy
Creativity
Good health
A warm house
Meaningful work
Books and book stores
Holidays
Amusement Parks
County Fairs
Swing music
Colors
Babies
Curlicues
Road trips
A smile from a stranger
Daffodils
Snow-capped mountains
Starry nights
Wonder

..to name a few things

What’s yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Photos: Farm Security Administration, Rick Audet, Bernadette Noll, Susan Sachs Lipman

Let Nature Decorate your Holiday Table

Nature often makes the best decoration. Especially in Fall, leaves, fruits and nuts are readily available in public spaces, in addition to being eye-catching, pretty, and free or nearly so.

Of course, the hunt is a highlight of the pre-planning. It provides a fun family tradition, and a way to enjoy nature together in the beautiful Fall, before bringing some of it inside for lovely — and free — table decor. My favorite tabletop finds include buckeyes, chestnuts, multi-colored leaves, ivy, pine boughs, pine cones, branches with berries and, from the store, mini pumpkins, persimmons, apples, mandarin oranges, and pears.

Above are fall tables from two different years. Both feature collected items from nature and inexpensive store-bought fall flowers that my family and I arranged in a shallow bowl, using a “frog” to hold the stems in place. All of our glassware and china has been handed down, including the festive red glasses. I layered inexpensive tablecloths and fabric runners.

One Thanksgiving morning, our cousins gathered branches and boughs for their table and made cute homemade placecards for each guest.

Another guest provided this very festive and yummy cake. I made the Cranberry Crunch squares from Susan Simon’s The Nantucket Holiday Table. They’re very good, and a great use for cranberries.

If you’re fortunate to be able to collect buckeyes, chestnuts or acorns in your area, they can make an inexpensive, natural, interesting filler for a large vase of flowers.

Friend Mary Mauro cleverly filled a very tall vase with mini pumpkins for a gathering. (She is also a gifted flower arranger.)

I hope you have an inspired, happy Thanksgiving.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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