Posts Tagged ‘family bonding’

Interview with Susan Magasamen

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Interview with Susan Magasamen, author of The 10 Best of Everything

When I read Susan Magasamen’s book The 10 Best of Everything, I found myself lusting after her job a little. Just as we at Chinaberry scour the nation for books and other treasures to enrich people’s lives, this woman has made it her mission to find destinations for families. While we’re searching for life-changing stuff, Susan’s out and about “testing” ice cream shops and campgrounds! (Sigh . . .) We just had to find out more about this woman and her amazing job, so we’d like to introduce to you Susan Magasamen!

Janet: What words of advice would you like to share with our readers for having the best family vacation of their lives?

Susan: Incorporate everyone into the planning!  This will make the trip something adults and kids are interested in and are looking forward to!  If you can start the planning early enough, it is great to introduce films, books, art, music and other aspects of the culture prior to the visit.  We also find that after the trip there is always a heightened interest in a new topic. For example, we just came back from a trip to Vienna and discovered our kids had a real interest in opera.  We are now renting operas!

Another tip is to allow for the unexpected and change your plans! No matter how much reading and research you do on a place, it is never the same as being there and experiencing it firsthand.  That is really the wonder of travel…the unexpected and the expected exceeding your expectations.

Janet: As I read your book, I wanted to dog-ear every page because all of your incredible “finds.” I especially loved reading about the “best road trips.” If you could only go on ONE of these road trips this summer, which one would you choose and why?

Susan: As you know, this book is a compilation of other people’s experiences!!! We have families sharing their favorite places in California, another exploring Boston, or a folklorist talking about Philadelphia. The “best road trips” are amazing and I would like to do all of them.  Hmmm, right now I think I would like to take my family to The Ultimate Florida Keys Vacation. This is the trip from Deb Kirkland and her two boys.  They planned an adventure-packed, nature-filled week, from hand-feeding the rays to an alligator show.

Janet: Out of all your experiences, from checking out wilderness hikes to resorts in the Key West, which was the most memorable for you personally?

Susan: Throughout the book we share travel stories of famous folks — from scientists and artists to poets and explorers.  I loved hearing about the places and experiences that helped shape their lives. This was very inspiring to me and reminded me that as a parent you have an opportunity to expose your children to what they might become in their lives. Elizabeth Spires’ visits to authors’ homes was very moving to me. As a writer, I relate to the way she got to understand the writers by seeing where they wrote. Often we don’t get the biography or background of things. When you have the opportunity to see where someone wrote something, what inspired them, what their life circumstances were, it helps to understand yourself, the world and perhaps even your place in it a little bit more.

Janet: During the course of putting together this book, what surprised you the most?

Susan: How much people love ice cream! And also how important time spent together is for families. As we travel, visit and see new things together, we create memories that last a lifetime.  I come from a family of five girls. Whenever we get together we still talk about some of the crazy trips we have taken.  I remember once my sister and I took our young children to Colorado to what we thought was a dude ranch.  It ended up being a disaster of a place.  So our husbands and kids all banded together and we went on a road trip all the way to New Mexico.  We had the time of our lives!  Again, expect the unexpected.

Janet: What’s the biggest mistake you feel parents make when planning family vacations?

Susan: Overbooking and pushing kids to “learn.” When your kids are engaged, interested and active, they will have a great time.

Janet: What is #1 on your Wish List right now for your next vacation?

Susan: We want to see the Northern Lights!  We’re thinking about going to Norway to do that.  Interestingly, this has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. At supper one night I said I really wanted to do this, not thinking anyone else would be interested. As it turned out everyone was! We’ve all done our homework now and have found a really cool website that reports on the Lights like a weather report!

Janet: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?

Susan: The biggest and best piece of advice I can give is to take naps!  Usually when kids are bored they are tired.  If you can take a rest, eat a great snack, and get something to drink, you can get back in the groove.

The Family That Cleans Together…

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Children are natural helpers. They love to share our work. But we must slow ourselves down enough to make space for them to work at their own pace and in their own way. They may not do things to our exacting standards the first few years that they are helping us, but with lots of opportunity and encouragement, as well as a healthy dose of acceptance for a job almost done (especially when they are very young), they will grow into capable workers. Teach skills sequentially, gradually adding the more subtle details, and soon you will have children who can see the dirt in a dirty sink and know how to clean!

Once a week, we clean our house as a family. Dividing up the chores, we go through our list and clean everything all at once. Our younger children always have a cleaning partner and are given a small but important job to do. A three-year-old equipped with two paper sacks can quite skillfully be in charge of sorting the trash and the recycling. As long as there is someone in the room with them, my children have always been quite thrilled to have tangible work that is in their care. Each year as we give them more freedoms, we also add to their responsibilities. By the time they are ten, they are capable of doing all the simple chores around the house—dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathrooms. They still like company when they work, but now their efforts are truly helping. When you clean as a family, no one has to be the “house slave.” More important, children learn that work is intrinsically satisfying and that it takes the whole family to make the home run smoothly.

What’s Your Family’s Trademark Song?

Thursday, July 9th, 2009
For some great family/kids songs, buy Nancy Cassidy's Kids Songs CDs.

Nancy Cassidy's Kids Songs CDs

Don’t be afraid to sing to your children. Our culture has become such a culture of experts; we often forget the simple pleasures of just sharing ourselves. We don’t have to know the perfect songs or have the perfect voice. It is the act of singing that our children will come to love. My husband and I often sing lullabies at our children’s bedtime. Our children are equally accepting of my husband’s renditions of ’60s rock tunes as they are of my obscure lullabies. Just pick a song you love and sing. Your children will love you for it. Three of my four children have adored “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” a song we resorted to one time on a long, unhappy car ride. Ever since then, that song has meant comfort to my children. On the worst of days, we can sing this song and be assured it will bring a smile to our children’s faces. Find your own family’s trademark song. These are moments that become treasured memories long after your child is grown.

For some great family/kids songs, check out Nancy Cassidy’s Kids Songs CDs. Listen to sound clips on our website.

Does your family have a “trademark” song? How do you incorporate music into your kids’ lives? Do you sing lullabies to your kids at bedtime? What’s your favorite lullaby?

A Simple Yet Fun and Addictive Game

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Shut the Box

I played this game with my girls over the weekend. We really enjoyed it. My twins are seven and this game is a great way to help them with their addition and thinking skills, but most of all, it’s just fun. The games are quick and a lot of the winning has more to do with luck than anything else. This means your kids have the same chance of winning as you do. I even found myself playing Shut the Box by myself right before I went to sleep. I’d recommend this for a family game night or to play while waiting at the doctor’s office, at an airport, for a performance to start, etc.
- Ali, Blog Administrator

I’m not a game person, so when a friend pulled out his wooden Shut the Box game (a world traveler, he carries it with him at all times), I was none too excited. My reluctance to play, though, dissolved as soon as the game began.

It is believed that Shut the Box dates back to at least the 12th century. Because it is extremely easy to learn, yet involves a nicely challenging combination of strategy and luck, it is one of those games that is hard to stop playing.

The object is to flip over the numbered wooden tiles so that their sum equals the sum of the dice that a player has just rolled (e.g., ”7” is rolled, so a player could flip the 3 and 4 tiles, the 2 and 5 tiles, the 4, 2, and 1 tiles, etc.). When ”flipping” is no longer possible because the necessary tiles are no longer available, one’s turn is over. The sum of the remaining tiles becomes that player’s score, and the winner is determined by the lowest sum at the end of the game.

There are variations, too, and in case it isn’t obvious, it’s an excellent game for a child mastering addition. Additionally, although the directions don’t say so, it’s a fine ‘’solitaire” game.

My world-traveling friend says that his Shut the Box has traveled so many miles and seen so many hours of play all over the globe that he considers it almost as important as his passport! Now that I’ve played (and played) Shut the Box, I understand how people get addicted to games!

Review by Ann Ruethling

Tony Hawk: San Diego’s Coolest Dad

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Tony Hawk: San Diego’s Coolest Dad talks about babies and boarding

By Kirsten Flournoy, Editor of San Diego Family Magazine.

Mention the name Tony Hawk and one thing comes to mind: skateboards. But the man who transformed skateboarding from a rogue street sport to a lucrative competitive industry is also a devoted dad to Riley, Spencer, Keegan, and Kadence.

A San Diego native, Hawk attended Torrey Pines High School. Since turning pro at age 14, he’s traveled extensively and inspired kids around the globe. An astute businessman, Tony is an entrepreneur, designer and philanthropist on top of the world. He’s made more than 130 appearances in fi lm and on TV, and won six gold medals at the ESPN X-Games.

Hawk’s Boom Boom HuckJam was a sold-out success. The punk- and rock-driven touring showcase featured the world’s best skateboarders, BMX and Motocross riders. Hawk shares his expertise in books, DVDs and a series of highly rated videogames, and he designs skateboards and a kid’s clothing line for Kohl’s. The Tony Hawk Foundation has given more than 2 million dollars to help build 390 skate parks in lowincome areas across the United States. Despite the celebrities, awards and accolades, what’s most important to Tony? The answer isn’t surprising. It’s family.

Tony’s wife Lhotse Merriam is a skier, former publicist and boutique owner, and the former Vice President of the International Free Skiers Association. She met Tony in Colorado, where she promoted extreme skiing events.

Married in 2006 to live music by the band Rancid, Lhotse and Tony spent a year and a half year trying to conceive using in vitro fertilization. IVF can be a rollercoaster of hope and disappointment.

“It’s a pretty rough road,” Lhotse says. “I really admire everyone who goes through it and goes the distance. We were pretty lucky on our fourth try.”

Their daughter Kadence Clover was born in July 2008. Lhotse and Kadence now accompany Tony on his travels. When we spoke to the Hawks, they’d returned from visiting four countries in just three weeks—business as usual for this dynamic family.

“There is no typical day in our household at all. If we’re not on the road, we are at home,” says Lhotse. “Tony’s usually in the office or an interview. [He] tries to get in skating three to four times a week at the warehouse or at home because we have a skate park in the back yard.”

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Connecting with Each Other

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Our family had the most wonderful Sunday afternoon together recently. We headed out in the late afternoon and brought some dinner to one of our favorite parks. We spread out a blanket and some chairs and feasted on some great food. Afterward, we continued one of my favorite family traditions: playing croquet. We started this years ago when the kids were younger, and often we set aside time on a special day  to go to the park and play croquet together.

Instead of worrying about catching the latest show on TV, we focused on each other and, of course, trying to hit a little ball through wire arches, which often results in a lot of laughter. This confirms one of my suspicions: Getting out of the house is one of the best ways to connect with my kids. Gone are the distractions of phones, TV, and computer, enticing us to while away too much time. Instead, we can focus on each other. Being somewhere else just seems to free us up to connect with each other better.

One family we know takes their kids to the beach in the late afternoon every Tuesday night during the summer. They do this without fail, walking on the beach, eating a relaxed meal, jumping in the water, connecting with each other. My friend says that this is her favorite activity, because it is low-key, relaxed, and something they can all do together.

Now if going to the beach or the park won’t work for you because of either time or distance, maybe a walk around the neighborhood would be a better fit for your family. The other night we went for a walk after dinner and ended up finding a wonderful area with lots of purple flowers blooming right under our noses. Had we not ventured down this particular street, we would have missed the beautiful colors and, most importantly, the beauty of our conversations. And what were we missing at home? Absolutely nothing.

Today’s children are losing touch with the natural world. Rarely do they feel free to wander in woods, climb trees, or build forts and tree houses anymore. There are too many safety issues, rules and regulations, and the urban destruction of green and growing places. Children are meeting nature ”virtually” on the Internet and television instead of running outside and encountering the world sensually for themselves. One fourth-grader told the author, ”I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

When children (and adults) are separated from nature, their health and well-being suffer. So do their souls. Louv offers studies that reveal how much playing in nature can stimulate creativity, imagination, vitality, and joy in our children. Schools that allow outdoor play in natural places find increased learning skills and greater concentration in their students. Parents of attention-deficit children often find time in nature to be as healing and as helpful as any drug. And yet our children are spending most of their time indoors, and when they do venture outside, it is only in controlled settings like team sports — not the same as letting children explore and experience nature for themselves. Louv has written a book that is both a blessing and a challenge. Please, please, read this book, and give it to every parent and teacher you know. It feels profoundly important — essential — for the health and well-being of our children and for the survival of the planet we call home.

Review by Lucinda Herring

Marry the Disturbance

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Recently I went to an evening of brilliant storytelling by Laura Simms. In the midst of this astonishing night, one line stood out above the rest, staying with me for days. Laura was in the middle of telling one of
those classic shipwrecked-sailor stories in which a man must use his wits to overcome obstacles and demons and to somehow find his way out of impossible circumstances so that he may return home. Danger
and peril mark every turn he takes. In the middle of the story (when the man was asked to marry a demon’s ugly daughter or lose his life), Laura paused to say, ”Whenever you are on a journey, you must marry the disturbance.” Marry the disturbance? Wow! Now there’s an idea! What did she mean, exactly? I carried those words around in my heart for a few days, knowing they were profound and wishing to understand them better. The whole idea of ”marrying the disturbance” struck me deeply.

How much of our lives do we spend running away from or trying to otherwise escape the disturbances of our lives? For most people, the answer is ”a lot!” What does it mean to ”marry the disturbance”? My
sense is that it means to take our troubles to heart, to accept what is, to simply be with what is. Instead, many of us try to change others so we don’t have to experience our disturbances. I thought of how easy it is to discount a child’s feelings or try to tell her that she isn’t feeling the way she is obviously feeling, just to move forward with the day. ”Oh, you fell down; you’re okay now.” Marrying the disturbance in this instance would require a different response. It would mean stopping what I was doing and consciously acknowledging what was really happening. ”Yes, Aidan, you fell and it hurts. I’m so sorry you are in pain.” (Even though he has been crying for what seems like an inordinate amount of time over a little thing.)

Who am I to determine how long is enough for someone else to cry over his pain? Is not my job as a mother to be there as a kind witness to the pain and a source of comfort; not lending undue attention,
mind you, but offering just simple comfort? How long would he really cry about a little owie if I held him close on my lap and didn’t say anything, if I just listened to his woes and offered him my heart? Would it
take all day? Can I do this without reserve?

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National Geographic’s Mothers & Children

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Review from Tina at Chinaberry:

In this stunning photographic gift book, National Geographic has once again compiled pictures that tell a story more eloquently than words could ever do, in this case capturing the essence of a mother’s love. No matter the place or the language, the universal truth of the connection between mother and child is the same: “I am here for you, you are safe and you are loved.” In southern Indiana, a young mother nurses her child while driving a tractor. In India, a beautiful young bride tearfully clasps her mother’s hand to her lips before driving off to her new life as a wife. In the People’s Republic of China, a mother and daughter share a gleeful moment of pure joy, and in Iceland, a mother braves the frigid air as she skates across the ice, her child warm and safe in a covered carriage.

The beautiful photographs, interspersed with quotes honoring mothers and musings from Craig Wilson combine to make a lovely gift for Mother’s Day or at any time. You will want to share this treasure with all the mothers in your life.

Chinaberry Interviews Susan McKinley Ross

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Susan McKinley Ross creates fun: games, toys, crafts – anything involving fun for children. She licensed her first toy in early 2003, and she’s been busy ever since with her growing business, Idea Duck. I had the great pleasure of meeting Susan in 2004 when she was helping us select toys for the Chinaberry catalog. Today, we carry her award-winning board game, Qwirkle. When we had lunch together at Toy Fair last January, I could have listened to Susan for hours! Since we ran out of time, I thought I’d continue our conversation here and share it with you all!

Janet: When you were a child, immersed in toys and games, did you ever one day dream that you would become an award-winning game maker?  What DID you see yourself doing?  In other words, what were your aspirations?

Susan: Growing up, I had no idea there was such a thing as a toy designer. Or a game designer. I thought these products just magically appeared. The whole concept of product design was outside my realm of experience. We’re aware of authors, directors, fashion designers, but as a culture, we’re not very clued in to the people who design things like toys or silverware. Every single product was designed by someone and I’m fascinated by that. It’s a career I stumbled into, but if I had known it existed, I would have sought it out.

As a child, I spent hours making mud pies, playing with my dollhouse and inventing imaginary worlds for my miniature toy animals. I think that’s why I’m drawn to low-tech toys. I want to design toys that I would have enjoyed myself.

In elementary school, I planned to be a lawyer and do good things for the world. When I graduated from college, I was blessed to get a job working at Hospice. I still sing the praises of the amazing people who do Hospice work. Working at Hospice taught me how important it is to do the things you love to do. I realized I wanted to be doing something creative in my work life. It turns out I wanted to be designing toys and games, even though I didn’t know that was what I was headed for.

Janet: What were your favorite games growing up?

Susan: I’m lucky. My family played games often. They never thought that I was too young to play. They taught me whist (a simplified version of bridge) when I was six years old because they needed a fourth player. We played a lot of cribbage and a lot of gin rummy. We played Scrabble, Monopoly, Password, Pay Day, Rummikub and Mille Bournes. When I was in high school, I played a lot of card games with my friends - hearts, spades, canasta and pinochle. We also played Trivia Pursuit and Pictionary. These are all very popular games that anyone my age would have had access to. I was just lucky to grow up with people who liked to play games.

Janet: Could you tell us a little about the monthly game night you and your husband host in your home? What is your favorite game now?

Susan: My husband, Chris, introduced me to a much wider variety of games than I knew about. Since we both love games, we’ve hosted a monthly Game Night for 12 years. It’s similar to a book club. Ten to fifteen people come over and we break into a few groups and play games. Game Night gives us a regular opportunity to play lots of games with lots of different people. It’s a fun way to spend an evening with our friends, and it’s a huge help to me as a game designer.

My favorite game is Puerto Rico. I also love Dominion and Agricola. These are complex games that offer many routes to victory. I like games that offer choices, so that if your first plan is blocked, you can still puzzle out a good back-up plan. One of the things I like about Qwirkle is that as you play, the board grows and so does the decision tree. Late in the game, there are lots more choices about where to play. You get to search the board to find the best possible place to play.

Janet: You’re such a creative idea person!  What inspires you?

Susan: When I started doing this work, I was mostly inspired by looking at all the amazing products out there and trying to figure out what made them interesting. I’m a huge fan of HABA toys. They’re so beautiful! When I see their toys, it makes me dream of designing something just as wonderful.

It’s always inspiring to see something beautiful, be it a toy or a greeting card or a children’s book. Toy Fair is a wonderful event and it makes my head spin with new ideas. I love it. But my absolute favorite part of going to New York for Toy Fair is my yearly pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Going there inspires me for weeks.

The best part of my job is when I’m in the throes of inspiration. Sometimes I wake up with a great idea and I’m blessed that it’s my job to hold onto that idea and develop it. It is completely compelling. I really let myself indulge in the joy of inspiration because it helps sustain me when I hit the difficult stages of product development.

Janet: If you could have only one item in the Chinaberry catalog, what would it be?

Susan: I love the Chinaberry catalog! When I read your catalog, it’s like having a conversation with a good friend. I’m always trying to find new things I enjoy, and Chinaberry is a great way to do that.

The thing that I’ve been meaning to order from Chinaberry is the new Himalayan Salt Inhaler. I’ve always been fascinated by the Neti Pot, but this looks even better. Leave it to Chinaberry to find a useful new version of a classic item.

Janet: And, lastly, tell us about your May Day ritual.  I know I’ve been getting your May Day flowers for the past five years, and I’ve saved every single photo.  Tell us how it started and how many pictures you send.

Susan: When I was growing up, my Mom and my grandparents taught me about May Day. They taught me to make a bouquet of flowers, leave it on our neighbor’s porch, ring the doorbell and hide in the bushes. Of course, the neighbors always knew it was us! But it was fun to do anyway. In high school, my cousin Stephanie and I would get up very early and drive around town delivering May Day flowers. And candy. We didn’t have enough flowers for everyone, so we gave some people candy. The best part was that we’d pick a few completely random houses to leave flowers.

Eventually I figured out a sneaky way to deliver hundreds of May Day bouquets. I make one beautiful bouquet, take a picture of it and email it. A few years ago I decided to turn the photo into a card so my favorite people would get a love note on May Day. I send out between 200 and 250 cards.

It gives me great pleasure to keep this May Day tradition alive. In general, I’m holiday crazy. But I especially adore celebrating May Day because it’s entirely my decision to celebrate it. It’s not a commercial holiday. There’s no apparatus to support May Day. It’s just a great excuse to remind people that I’m thinking of them. I usually deliver 5-10 actual bouquets on May Day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see people and let them know how grateful I am for their presence in my life.

Janet: Be sure to check our blog May 1 for Susan’s 2009 May Day bouquet!

Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

710 Games and Activities for Ages 12 Months to 10 Years
by Bobbi Conner

You will never hear the words ”I’m bored” again from your children if you own this extraordinary book. It would take years for anyone to play all the games and do all the activities within its pages, so there’s the grand feeling of always having something new and marvelous to play, learn, or create. It is set up so you can begin when your child is a year old and keep going for ten years, adding more and more ways to imagine and create, run, jump, skip and exercise, be outside with nature, laugh and be silly, and share good times with others. All this instead of watching TV, surfing the Net, or playing video games that aren’t really about being connected, happy, and alive.

What a gift this book is. There are great pages with information about what children need at every stage of growing — how creative play helps children develop healthily and with joy. Each age range has sections: Solo Play, for the times you need children to play on their own; Play Ideas for Parent and Child to do together; Playing with Others, and Birthday Party and Group Play. The appendixes support family game nights and creating a well-stocked toy cupboard to be ready for fun at any time. I can’t imagine a childhood without this book now, so I am giving one to every child I know and love.