Monday, December 28, 2009

Bring on the New Year!

As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close, let’s take a few moments to set some goals for 2010. I don’t want this to be a list of resolutions that are filled with unrealistic expectations. If we do, by mid-January, we'll end up hanging our heads, feeling miserable at our lack of success. Instead, I want to identify goals that focus on respect, simple kindnesses, and bringing happiness to ourselves and others.

Watching one of my favorite Christmas movies this past week, It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence, the guardian angel, shared a very important concept when he stated, “Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?” We need to be conscious of the lives we touch each and every day, and make sure that we are paying attention to those around us, even during those inconsequential moments we sometimes don’t even consider important.

Please examine the list and identify the ones that you think will make a positive change in your life or the lives of the people with whom you interact. Then, when the ball drops and welcomes in 2010, let’s make a positive difference in our world.

1. I will wait as I let someone else merge into my lane ahead of me while driving, or let someone with fewer items go ahead of me in the grocery line, Life should not be so rushed that offering common courtesies effects my time, and if it is, I need to budget more time for these events.

2. I will not hang up on person A when person B is calling, nor will I use call-waiting to tell person B that I am busy and will call them back, unless it is an urgent issue. Letting the call go to voicemail lets caller B know I am busy and will call them back! I will speak to the person I am on the phone with at the time with my full attention.

3. I will not answer my phone, text, or check the Internet while having an in-person conversation with someone, unless the situation warrants it. I will maintain full attention on the discussion, and will attend to my personal and work calls, emails, or texts after we are done talking.

4. I will make sure to end my phone calls or texting when I am dealing with a sales clerk, in line at the bank, in a movie or in a restaurant.

5. I will return phone calls in a timely manner. My life is no busier or no more important than anyone else’s, and it is not respectful to forget or delay a callback.

6. I will take responsibility for my actions and not make excuses for my problems. I will come up with reasonable solutions or strategies for problems, forgive my own mistakes, and seek forgiveness from those I offend.

7. I will find something each day that makes me smile, laugh, feel good about, or be grateful for - finding those ‘penguin moments’, as I have referred to in previous blogs.

Please feel free to comment with any additional goals you feel might enhance our lives. May you all be blessed with laughter, peace, success, love and friendships in the coming year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top Ten Things to Do Over the Winter Break with Your Family (especially if you are not traveling for vacation!)

We all come from different backgrounds and have different religious views. As I list my ideas for Winter Break, I am not focusing on religion, but some suggestions may emphasize the holidays that come at this time of year. Please know that I hope that everyone enjoys his or her holidays, but most importantly, I hope that you savor the time you have together over the next few weeks as a family. I have selected my top ten things to do. I hope they inspire you to make the next two weeks fun and memorable!

Number 10: Family Movie Night:
Pick out your favorite movies, make some popcorn or serve some hot chocolate, light a fire if you’re in a cold climate and have a fireplace, and have a movie night. If you are looking to get into the holiday spirit, here are some of my favorite suggestions for family holiday movies.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
T’was the Night Before Christmas
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Miracle on 34th Street
A Christmas Carol
The Santa Clause
Christmas Vacation
And for my Jewish friends, there’s A Rugrat’s Chanukah
There’s No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein

Number 9: Bake Cookies or Cakes
The importance of bringing joy to someone else is always an important lesson for children. First, take some important health precautions: make sure no one preparing the food is sick and wash little hands often in the preparation process. If you are bringing the treats to a nursing home or other community location, find out ahead of time if there are any dietary restrictions or restrictions on accepting home baked products. Otherwise you can always bring them to a grandparent, neighbor, or other friends or relatives.

Number 8: Gifts for a Needy Child or Family
This time of year is especially hard for many families who are struggling to afford the basic essentials in life. If you happen to be among the families struggling, please make sure to reach out to your community programs that offer assistance to provide meals, groceries, and toys. While you might be on the receiving end this year, know that when you have more fortunate circumstances, you can become the giver at that point. For those of you who are managing financially at this time, please think of those around you who might benefit from your generosity. Teach your children that the holiday spirit includes doing what you can to see that others enjoy the same necessities and pleasures that you do. Volunteer your time at a shelter or free meal facility, donate to toys for tots, go to your temple or church and see what needs people in your religious community have, or go to your post office to see if they support a Letters to Santa program, where you can obtain a letter from a child or family in need, and help fulfill their holiday wishes. Many shopping malls also have programs for giving as well. Have your children participate in the shopping or service project so they can understand the joy of giving.

Number 7: Discover Your City
Imagine that you are a visitor to Chicago. What places would you and your children want to see? Whether it’s the Botanic Gardens winter fest, walking down State Street, ice skating downtown or at Wrigley Field (it’s new this year), or visiting one of the many wonderful museums in our city or suburbs, take time to appreciate the beauty of our community. For a fun evening, check out some community holiday decorations. Vernon Hills Holiday Wonderland is still our family favorite for a local treat. There is something magically beautiful about this time of year, and enjoying it as a family is a treat.

Number 6: Pajama Day!
Imagine a day where you have no responsibilities, no obligations to drive carpools or step outside your own home! Stay in pajamas and play! Make a fort out of blankets, create an obstacle course, or play board games all day. Set out a blanket and have a picnic on the family room floor. Let your imagination run wild and have some old time, family fun.

Number 5: Create something from scratch!
It is so overwhelming to look at all the things that kids want, and the price tags attached. Do-it-yourself projects offer the reward of working together, creating something from scratch, and seeing how hard work and effort pay off. Need some ideas to get your brain charged? How about making a bed for your child’s doll? We designed beds, measured the pieces of wood we would need, bought the wood and had the store cut it to designed sizes (a $5 tip was all it took). Then we bought some sale priced material and batting, and found paints and nails in the house. We spent the day assembling, sanding and painting the wooden beds. The following day, we painted designs on the beds and made the mattresses, pillows and blankets. Store-bought beds for dolls run about $150; our price, $13.50 per bed (that includes the tip!). If you don’t have dolls that need a place to sleep, how about making a bird feeder? Home Depot and Menards have instruction guides and can help with supplies, or you can gather the information needed from the internet.

Number 4: Visit your Library
Reading day! Do you know your library has movies, music, puzzles and books? They have books on CD too! You can curl up on a couch in the children’s section of the library and share a story with your child. Go through the collections and find things to check out too! Teaching children to value reading for pleasure is one of the greatest gifts you can give to them.

Number 3: Arts and Crafts Day
I have wonderful memories as a child of creating sand art bottles, making Shrinky-Dink necklaces, and painting ceramic figures. To this day, I feel like I'm five years old again when I smell a tub of Playdoh. Remember squeezing the hair out of the Playdoh fun maker? Or how about ironing leaves and crayons between waxed paper to create a collage? There are so many fun craft ideas that are free or cost very little. Again, if you are short on the creative juices, go to the internet and search low cost craft ideas for children. Get out the glue, scissors, and construction paper and let your inner-child enjoy the day!

Number 2: Winter Fun
Ok, so while I feel that, as an adult, getting around in snow is horrible. But it is beautiful and fun from the child’s eye view! So, go out and enjoy the snow. Build a snowman or snow fort. Have a snowball fight. Go sledding on the local hill, go tobogganing on the bigger slopes in your community, or even snowboarding or skiing. Remember that safety comes first with all winter sports. Ski and snowboarding lessons are important, and if you can’t teach them all the information they need, sign them up for ski/snowboard school. Practice safe sledding too by making sure the hill is clear and kid-friendly. Remember the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life where Harry Bailey slides on the shovel into the lake that hadn’t quite frozen over? Accidents happen, but do your best to make sure you are showing your kids how to have safe fun! Don’t forget to dress appropriately for the weather too.

Number 1: Have a Kids’ New Year’s Party
For five years, we had wonderful parties for children in our neighborhood on New Year’s Eve. We decided that since midnight was just too late for the kids to stay up, we would make their very own New Year’s Eve party. The kids’ party went from 4:00-5:30 p.m. We had four groups of ten children, divided by age or friendships. Each group had one or two adult supervisors (adult friends of ours, those brave souls!). We found four separate areas of our house to hold each group, and kids rotated every 20 minutes to a different station for activities.
Kitchen: Snack – The favorite snack was build your own burger, but the burger consisted of 2 vanilla wafers (bun), green (pickles), yellow (mustard) and red (ketchup) frosting, and a Girl Scout Thin Mint (burger). I know it wouldn’t win any health awards, so we also offered fruit, water, and apple juice.
Family Room – BINGO – Traditional BINGO with prizes (pencils, stickers, erasers, nickels).

Bedroom – Charades (older kids) or Hot Potato (younger kids) -
The group was divided into two teams and we played the traditional games. Because the room was small, the kids actually did really well in participating and not getting out of control!

Basement – Year Banner (2010, for example) – Each number could be cut out, glued onto construction paper, decorated with sequins, stars, stickers, markers, etc. We would punch two holes in the top of the paper and thread yarn through the holes to make a door hanger out of the banner.
THE GRAND FINALE – Each child’s admission to the party was one can of silly string. After the last game or snack rotation, the entire group put on coats and hats and went to the back yard. We counted down to “midnight”, and then everyone let the silly string fly! Make sure to let parents know to send the kids in older coats and clothes – one year we did this indoors (what was I thinking!) and the silly string did stick onto one girl’s shirt (sorry Mallory!). Overall, these parties were so much fun and I didn't feel bad having the kids go to bed at their typical bedtime because their party was so much fun. I was also able to enjoy my adult New Year’s Eve time as well!

If your kids are older, make sure you and they enjoy a safe New Year’s party. Set a good example and please, and don’t drink and drive. Know where your children are going, make sure the party is supervised, and limit the amount of time they are on the roads as much as possible.

Most of all have a happy, healthy holiday season filled with memories in the making. My wishes are for a wonderful 2010, filled with peace, happiness, and love.