Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

Finding Gratitude Every Day

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

When I was a child, my father made a ritual of coming into my sister’s and my bedroom for our goodnight prayers. These weren’t the prayers recited by rote in school or church, but rather his own words to convey what he wanted to say at the end of the day. Even now, I can still remember at least part of this same-every-night prayer. As we lay there in a darkened room, he always started by saying ‘Thank you’ for a myriad of things: our health, shelter over our heads, food on our table, a good school…’ Then he’d segue into various appeals for continued good health, happiness for all of our friends and neighbors, peace in the world, etc. To my child-like sensibilities, it seemed that good health, shelter, and a good school were things that everyone had, and priority should be placed on the ‘request’ part of his spiel. But there came a night when my big sister piped in with her thanks for something, and before long, I was adding my own thanks to the line-up: for my rabbit, the fact that it was summer, or the fun hide-and-seek game with the neighborhood kids my parents had let us stay out past dusk to finish.

It seems that no matter our religious or spiritual inclination, it is part of the human condition to ask or say a prayer for something. Even if we don’t make a big, elaborate deal of it, we ask for you-name-it: good weather for the company picnic, a victory for our team, an improvement in the economic climate, the end of the drought in Africa, etc. But I think that giving thanks just doesn’t happen as often as making a request—at least it sure doesn’t with me. I find myself whispering a plea much more often than I acknowledge something for which I’m grateful. Yet I’ve committed myself to finding gratitude every single day, and that’s probably because my father made it part of our lives as kids. Having learned early on that I have countless things to be grateful for, I can almost always find a bright side to even the lousiest day. My bet is that we all have a myriad of things to appreciate. Whether it’s the roof over our heads, the rain on our thirsty garden, the luxury of being able to fill up the gas tank, or the fact that we still have our eyesight, the list is nearly endless.

And that’s why I think that Thanksgiving is one of our most meaningful and sweetest holidays. Hopefully, we take the opportunity to reflect on the good things in our lives. It gives us the chance to build a celebration around one single quality: gratitude. It gives us the chance to move beyond the ingrained sense of self-entitlement so many of us in our country have and look at life from a position of a grateful ‘I have’ rather than ‘I want’—a position that will not only enhance our own lives as well as our children’s, but will truly make the world a gentler and more caring place.

You’re Not Alone

Friday, September 11th, 2009

It has been a year since I received one of those phone calls everyone dreads getting. Our phone rang early on a Saturday morning when my husband was out of the country and I was home alone. On the other end of the phone was someone I didn’t know telling me that one of our closest friends had been killed the night before in a horrible plane crash.

I have heard that when your system receives a shock, time seems to switch into slow motion. That was true for me. While trying to breathe through my own grief, I had to figure out how to contact my husband and break the news to him. Since we were literally half a world apart, it was impossible to really hold and comfort one another. We each had to deal with the disbelief, the sadness, and the pain alone, as I imagine many people have to do.

Over the past year, I have watched our friend’s widow and daughter deal with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, his birthday, and Father’s Day all without their husband and father. So many times I thought to myself, “How do they get through this pain? How do they get out of bed each morning?” But somehow they did and continue to do so.

Every single one of us will have to deal with death and grieving at some point in our lives. No one is immune - it will touch all of our lives. The holidays are some of the worst days for those who are mourning. Some will have to mourn alone; others will have family members to help ease the pain. Maybe you know someone who needs a little extra attention this holiday season - someone who has recently lost a loved one. Or maybe you, yourself, are grieving the loss of someone you love.

May we all take the time to reach out to those who are hurting and let them know that even though they might feel alone, they really aren’t. While this is a season of joy for most of us, we will experience more of it if we reach out to someone who is hurting, lonely, facing a life-changing illness, or just needs a little extra love. This holiday, I wish peace of mind, love, and comfort to all.

Celebrating a Girl’s Rite of Passage

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Frankly, I’m not big on a lot of the pomp that often surrounds birthdays. I like to keep our celebrations intimate and un-hyped. But Elizabeth’s thirteenth is coming up and this passage is one I want to acknowledge with a true ritual — one that helps her with a new self-identity in the adult world. And I want to do this with a sense of the sacred and an element of the mysterious. So I’ve written to the women she respects and loves the most (they’re scattered all over the country) to ask them to send her some piece of advice that they wish THEY would have gotten from an older woman friend when THEY were thirteen. I also asked them to send something small and special — a beautiful rock?, a poem?, an extraordinary bookmark? — something that she can tuck away and pull out when the going gets rough to remind her of the women who have weathered their lives’ storms and hopefully give her a boost of support to see her through her own life’s challenges. Finally, I asked all of them to tell Elizabeth what she means to them — her essence, I guess. As their gifts arrive, I will collect them into a handmade basket or wooden box and give them to her at a special moment when she and I are together.

For other ideas about coming-of-age and rites of passage, consider purchasing the Chinaberry book, The Joy of Family Traditions by Jennifer Trainer Thompson

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?

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

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!

Disneyland is Free on Your Birthday!

Thursday, April 9th, 2009
Photo: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

Photo: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

[OK now, I'm sure many of you have already heard about this Disney promotion. Just in case you haven't, read on.]

I was happily surprised (our family doesn’t watch much TV) to find out that during this year, Disneyland is letting people in free on their birthdays. Since I have twins, who will turn seven this month, I get both of them in for free! We happen to live close enough to Disneyland for a day trip. The girls are very excited since the first time I took them there, it rained most of the day.These free tickets can only be used on your exact birthday and you’ll need to bring a copy of your child’s birth certificate. I believe you can get free birthday tickets at Disney World, as well.

Get your free birthday ticket(s) here!

I also just found out that Disneyland has finished their renovation of the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride–it was closed last time we visiting. To me, Disneyland just isn’t complete unless I go on this ride. The “downside” is that I’ll have the It’s a Small World song in my head for weeks afterward. Well, it’s better than Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which one of my girls has been humming & singing since December.

Creating a Daily Rhythm and Routine

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009
Creating a Daily Rhythm and Routine

Creating a Daily Rhythm and Routine

When creating a rhythm for your days, think of this rhythm as if it were a rubber band. The rhythm is there as a pattern to hold something in place, to add stability to your day. Yet it’s a pattern quite capable of stretching, of being flexible to meet the needs at hand. Like a rubber band, our daily rhythm can only be stretched so far before it loses its structural integrity and everything falls apart. So, nurture a rhythm that allows for both stability and ease. Stability provides the boundaries that small children need to feel safe. Stability creates a comforting sense of predictability, of knowing that naptime always follows lunchtime. A rhythm with general predictability deeply reassures a child’s soul that all is well. At the same time, we must avoid the trap of being too rigid by creating a rhythm that allows for ease. A rhythm that is gently flexible makes room for the unpredictable and helps children learn to be adaptable. Flexibility encourages a comfort with life that allows people to flow from one experience to the next, even when things don’t go exactly as planned, which, in these radically changing times, is a highly useful trait.

Yours, Mine, and Ours: New Traditions for Stepfamilies

Friday, December 19th, 2008

This article comes from the book The Joy of Family Traditions by Jennifer Trainer Thompson.

Christmas can be especially hard for stepchildren. Not only do kids stand to lose the traditions they shared with their biological families, they may be shuffling between two households, neither of which necessarily feels like a safe, secure place they can call home. Throw in a potential income disparity between families, new stepsiblings, and possibly receiving modest gifts themselves while stepbrothers and stepsisters are showered with expensive gadgets from an absent parent-and you’ve got the makings for an emotional minefield. Blended families need new traditions to smooth the way:

  • Make Christmas a season, not a day. If you focus traditions on that single twenty-four-hour period, and your children only see you every other year on Christmas Day, they’ll feel they’re missing something on the years they’re with your ex. Create new traditions that aren’t date specific such as picking out the tree, making wreaths, and shopping together.
  • If you are with stepchildren on Christmas Day, don’t push all your traditions on them at once; maybe this year you shouldn’t visit your mother on Christmas morning-save that for a vacation day later in the week. Start traditions that will make new family members feel special-which may mean foregoing some favorite activities in favor of making time for new ones.
  • Try not to force two celebrations on Christmas Day-”We’ll be home in the morning, at noon you’ll go to your father’s house, then we’ll pick you up at 4 P.M., with a quick stop for eggnog at Grandma Jane’s on the way to Uncle Bill and Aunt Barbara’s for their annual Christmas Day open house, then we’ll end up at your Grandpa Jack’s for supper because I know you wouldn’t want to miss that.”-unless of course you want the children’s enduring holiday memory to be that of sitting in a car, racing against the clock.
  • Be flexible. Be creative. Be generous. Ask them what they want to do to celebrate. Maybe they’d like to go ice skating on Christmas Eve or watch a holiday movie in the afternoon. Choose holiday activities that everyone can do together: skating, sledding, baking cookies. But don’t be afraid to experiment with some separate activities that, while open to all the kids, don’t require everyone to participate.

Thanksgiving Traditions & Recipes

Monday, November 10th, 2008

We’d like to start off the conversation on our blog by sharing our Thanksgiving family traditions & recipes with each other. Here’s one of Janet’s Thanksgiving traditions:

I started my family’s Thanksgiving Journal in 1991, when we were selling blank journals and fabric markers. My then 7-year-old daughter decorated the cover with little turkeys and she entitled it, “Our Thanksgiving Album.” Over the years I chronicled who shared this special day with us, what recipes we feasted on, what we were particularly thankful for that year, and any special anecdotes, like the year someone accidentally used the kitty litter scoop as a serving spoon in the turkey dressing.

Share one of your Thanksgiving traditions, recipes or stories, then check back to read what other families had to say.