Only time will tell if we can bring our crazy, hyperextended family together...BETTER! Come share our laughs and struggles as we test tips, tricks, and tools-of-the-trade in our quest for a more fabulous family life.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Visit to the New York State Museum

We traveled to visit one of our favorite family spots--The New York State Museum--recently. This week, the museum had three special exhibits going on in addition to their year-round exhibits. Though the the paintings, artwork, and photographs of the "Before September 11th" exhibit were awe-inspiring, we could not take pictures of them due to the desire to preserve the pieces. However, we were able to photograph the "New York in Bloom" designer flower art pieces and the items from the"Gems and Minerals" exhibit along with the year-round exhibits. 

This is the Sesame Street Exhibit complete with flowers
in the letters of A, B, C!   This is one of the
original sets for the Sesame Street show:

One of the most moving of the exhibits, other than the Holocaust
                            exhibit, is the World Trade Center, September 11th exhibit. Here is
                             an actual fire truck from Ground Zero. Flowers put on the front of
                                            truck are original and over ten years old:

This is a recovery trailer from Ground Zero. It was used
by families who were awaiting news of their loved
ones on September 11th. Now it is filled with hundreds of their
signs used to search for their loved ones in the rubble,
cards, messages, momentoes, and framed/signed pictures:

The Mastodon, found in Cohoes, New York, is one of our favorite
exhibits at the museum.
This is our other favorite exhibit--the Native American longhouse replica.
As we have a smidge of Native American Sioux in our genes, we
really appreciate learning about this part of our heritage.

This is inside the Native American longhouse.

We ended our visit to the New York State Museum by checking out
the New York gems and minerals exhibit.

For more pictures, click on my sidelink, "Family Activities with Meaning"!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Traveling--Back in Time

We have had some busy days and unexpected travels in the past few weeks.  Unfortunately, a relative became ill and some of us had to travel to go to my family's home town.  The good news is that the relative is doing better now and more good news is that we were able to visit with my grandmother. To visit my grandmother, who is nearly 99 years old, in her own home is a priceless experience.  She keeps her home the same way that I've always remembered it since a small child.  She is able to remember and recount many memories of people and times that I have never known.  When she talks, I love to listen.
     The best memories I have of being at my grandmother's house are extended family gatherings.  My aunts and uncles, my mother's cousins, my grandmother's sister, her brothers would all just stop over and sit on the front porch and talk.  My grandfather would put on his little transistor radio so that they could keep track of the latest baseball game.  My cousins and I, along with the neighborhood kids, would play outside or in the basement, which was pretty much a large empty space.  We would play hide-and-go-seek, Red Rover Red Rover, and Ghost in the Graveyard--for hours.  Then, if we were lucky, my grandmother would let us have a homemade ginger cookie and some Fresca or water from the hose. 
     When my cousins weren't there, and the neighborhood kids were with their families, we would go down into the basement and search through the many, many books that my grandmother had there.  She had books like Sherlock Holmes, the Hardy Boys' series, and my favorite--Nancy Drew!  She'd let us borrow them. 
      Nights would bring more sitting on the porch by the adults, especially in the summer, and eating fresh peaches with milk.  My grandmother had a large mason jar that she kept on the porch.  Its lid was punched with holes.  This jar was for catching lightning bugs.  All around the house we'd go, trying to catch lightning bugs and once caught, we'd watch their tails light up and die out, light up and die out.  We'd bring the jar to my grandmother and she'd hold onto it while we sat down on the porch steps and finally wiped out from playing, we'd sit and listen to the adults.  These were the times when stories of the past would come out...the stories of immigration, the stories of wars past, the stories of great-grandmother and great-grandfather and their parents.  How could a child not listen to such stories of adventure?
This is my grandmother's sewing area in her house.  She still sews for
people; it is her creative outlet.  She has created her own little space here.
Pictures of all her family members line the wall and suncatchers
decorate the window close by.  Chimes from the nearby church clock tell the time. 
Up in the girls' bedroom are cardboard pictures, the same ones from
when my mother was a little girls.  They are posters with Degas pictures.
This visit was different though. When I walked up the steps of my grandmother's house, I looked for the lightning bug jar in the eaves of the porch.  It wasn't there.  The porch chairs were turned over for the winter.  I worried that it would be the same when I walked inside.  But as I opened the door and greeted my grandmother with a hug and kiss, the memories milled about the house filling it.  I wouldn't dare sit in my grandfather's old chair, but sat instead in my great-grandmother's rocking chair which seemed to welcome me.  My grandmother sat in her old chair and we started to do what we always do--talk.  At one point, she went up into the upstairs closets and brought back a whole roll of handmade lace.  "This was crocheted by your great-grandmother, a border of some kind.  Look at how intricately it is made.  I often sit and wonder what she meant it for.  What did she want to do with this border?  What does she want me to do with it?"  I took it in my hands.  I wish I had an answer.  I wish I had known when I was younger to talk to my great-grandmother. My grandmother is 99 years old and she had saved this lace, wondering what to do with it in a way that her mother would approve, all these years.  I didn't know what to say. 

     A few days later, when it was time to leave, my grandmother urged me to get a book for the road.  I ran down to the basement to get a book.  I did find a book or two, but then, inside a box, I found a bigger mystery.  I found an old picture who seemed to me to be my great-grandmother--and then a poetry volume signed to my great-grandfather from the author, his friend.  "What did you want done with that lace?  What were you making it for when you died?"  Something special, I thought.  Some special family item--a tablecloth, a big, huge tablecloth for family dinners, maybe.  I didn't have time to ask my grandmother about these.  Extended family members were yelling for me to get out to the car.  We had to make it home before dark.  I didn't have time to do anything but to click a quick picture for the future, grab hold of a mystery book, run back upstairs to kiss and hug my grandmother, and leave--too soon--once again.  The visit, in many ways, was different.  In many ways, it was a very difficult visit due to my relative's illness.  But in many ways, it was just the same; it reminded me once again of how priceless time is--with family. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Family Activity--Sledding

Though it has been an unusually warm winter so far this year (knock on wood so I don't jinx us with a whopper of a storm now!), as soon as there was even a smidge of snow, we headed to our favorite sledding hill early this past week.  Everyone, young and old, gets into the act here as there are both steep and small hills.  The cold of winter, sometimes bitter in past years, tends to keep people in their homes.  But the snow brings many people out from isolation; they all come to sled at the best spot in town and visit with neighbors they haven't seen in a little while. 
We have a huge open area, with many good sledding hills, near our town.

As soon as the kids clamber back up the hill...

...they ready themselves...and sled right back down, laughing.

Of course, no outing in the cold would be complete without
hot chocolate and whipped cream! 

The best part about sledding, besides being FREE (Wa-hoo!), is all the great outdoor
physical activity (the kids sleep good that night), the visits with neighbors and friends, and all the smiles and laughter. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year!  In honor of the Year of the (water) Dragon, we honored our many Chinese friends by celebrating with our own Chinese "feast".  Around the dinner table, we ate under lanterns, told riddles, learned about the holiday, tried eating with chopsticks, and shared fortune cookies.  I admit it, one of our guilty pleasures has been Chinese "take out" food every now and then, and not always the healthy choices at the restaurant either (it all tastes so good!).  So in keeping with our family challenge for more healthy eating, we tried our hand at making some of our Chinese food favorites at home.  We ate oranges, made noodles, made little egg rolls, a different version of sweet and sour chicken (the kids love that we had to try to make it ), and something absolutely new to commemorate healthy eating in the new year....
Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps:
(Recipe can be found in "Cooking With Meaning".)
We had a lot of fun cooking together, honoring and learning about the Chinese culture, and finding some new healthy foods.  We found the following web site very helpful in beginning our search for Chinese food recipes, learning about the Chinese culture, and learning about the significance of food on this day:

May 2012 be a lucky year for you!

(from Wikipedia)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hugging for Health

This is actually my own son, as a toddler,
hugging his best buddy.
    Though National Hug Day was yesterday, January 21st, hugging, snuggling, and cuddling have all been shown to improve health and happiness when practiced regularly, throughout the year.  According to Andrew Weil, M.D., studies show that "physical touch to promote contentment and comfort... increases happiness" and "optimizes health for the body".  In his most recent book, Spontaneous Happiness, Weil also has several other suggestions that have been shown to improve, not only happiness, but also physical health.  As our weekly focus challenge, our family thought it might be fun to try out Dr. Weil's tips for physical health and happiness and evaluate it at the end of the week.  Though Weil discusses these actions as ones that individuals can do, I've added some information and suggestions geared just towards families:

Of course, number one on the list is to regularly hug, snuggle, and cuddle with your family members--I'd have to add "as much as is comfortable, not stressful, for each individual family member" as each person has his/her own comfort level with physical touch, even at certain times of the day or in certain situations, that needs to be respected.  I'm thinking especially of my middle-schoolers.  If I were to hug, say "I love you" or even look at my middle-schoolers when I take them down to the bus stop (in front of several of their peers), they would not be happy at all! LOL!  However, in addition to Weil's research, another study which promotes the physical benefits of hugging family members shows that hugging lowers stress, and therefore promotes heart health: .  So, this week, we will see what our family thinks of hugging regularly as a health and happiness promoter. 

Aim for some physical activity every day.  Again, my instinct is that if this can be done as a family by doing activities such as biking, hiking, ice skating, etc., not only are we helping our family's physical health and happiness, but we are connecting and bonding as a family and teaching a valuable life skill to our children about maintaining their own physical health as they get older.  We've already seen many of the benefits of family activities that involve physical activity together so it will be interesting to now hear everyone's evaluations on this suggestion.                                              

*Adopt a diet low in fast food, junk food, food made of highly-processed flour and sugar.  Add more fish, other non-red-meats such as chicken, fruits, vegetables, brown rice, and complex carbohydrates.  Weil mentions his Anti-Inflammatory Diet, which he also says is similar to the Meditteranean Diet but with several additions that he feels can improve health and therefore, happiness.  Basic information on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet can be found at Andrew Weil's website ( at: .  Information on the Meditteranean Diet can be found here: .  My husband and I have tried the Meditteranean diet, the DASH diet, the SouthBeach Diet, and we have not included our kids too well, I have to say.  It will be interesting to teach the kids about healthy eating through the Meditteranean diet and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet, with appropriate modifications for them, and see what we think. 

*Sleep--in total darkness, as much as possible.  Darkness at night and light exposure during the day, as shown in several studies, helps to set a healthy circadian rhythm--which then increases a person's happiness and health. These studies are valuable and do seem to have very helpful findings.  However, for a mother with children who are afraid of the dark, my instinct is that this suggestion would not increase their happiness, their sleep, or their health.  So, I have to say that it might be best to add, "as much as comfortably possible--and dim, strategically placed nightlights are okay!".  We'll see what everyone thinks...

* In conjunction with sleeping in the dark, Weil feels it is just as important to get out in the bright light when possible during the day.   I'm thinking that for family members, this could mean just getting outside to play.  As well, I'm betting that getting outside, better yet, getting active outside as much as possible can help family members to get fresh air, fresh oxygen, and sunlight--which has been shown to activate vitamin D in humans, a vitamin that has been shown to increase happiness and healthn in appropriate quantities.  As well, for some reason, when my own kids are able to play outside (with appropriate supervision, of course), they tend to be more calm when inside and tend to sleep better.  My own mother used to say that about myself and my own brothers and sisters as we grew up as well.  I don't have any research or studies, but it's like moms telling their kids to eat vegetables all those years and then researchers found out moms were right--playing outside as much as possible is healthy for ALL family members--including the adults!  Yet, as it is darker and colder outside right now, I'm wondering how my family will feel about getting outside, as much as possible, despite these obstacles...

So our plan the end of the week, we'll evaluate what suggestions seem to help us (as a family) to feel healthier and happier, what suggestions didn't work for us, and what adaptions we'd add--all in our journey towards a BETTER FAMILY!  (...yay...!)


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday--First "Real" Snow

The first "real" snow of the season, not that two to four inch stuff, was the best kind.  If it is too wet or icy, the snow brings down trees and power lines (like many regions last October), unfortunately something pretty regular around here.  If the snow is too light and fluffy, it can't be packed into snowballs, snow people or snow forts.  This snow was "just right" as Goldilocks would say.  It was perfect for sliding in, making snowballs, making tiny snow people, and for just plain playing. 

Making snow angels...

No one wanted to come inside even when light started to fade...

Just a little more and it would have been perfect for sledding, cross country skiing, snow shoeing and downhill skiing, and making forts.  Though I know we will be tired of it by the end of February and especially into March and April, it sure is fun for now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First Family Meeting of the New Year

“I have two hands but I cannot get you two fish,” said my youngest son in the middle of the year’s first family meeting.  We all stopped talking, wondering what he meant.  This is my youngest son’s trademark, his own little quirk, to say things, or do things, out of the blue. 
“What?” I said.  Though we had the “talking spoon” out, everyone was speaking out of turn until J.J. said this. 
“I have two hands but I cannot get you two fish,” he repeats.  Then he adds, “It’s a Vietnamese proverb.” 
“Where’d you hear that?” said my husband.
“From my teacher,” he said.  “It’s about multi-tasking.” 
“Do you know what multi-tasking is?” I said.
“Yes,” said J.J.  “It’s when you try to do a bunch of different things at one time.  And you can get frustrated.  Like right now.  Everybody’s talking at one time and I’m frustrated.  BACON!” 
It was true.  We hadn’t had a family meeting in over a month—and it sure felt like we were back at a point where we were all multi-tasking and we were all frustrated.  Everyone was talking out of turn and interrupting one another.  In the past month, rules slid.  Star charts had been put away and never brought back out.  We were retreating back into the old routines we had as busy people who ran in and out of the house we shared, not really connecting.  Even this meeting had to be broken into two smaller segments on separate days in order to allow for everyone to meet. It brought a realization for all of us; the family meetings had been doing something good for our family.  We needed them. 
It was hard to get back into our new routine.  We had to remember our “talking spoon” for taking turns in the meeting.  We had to remember the roles we created to take turns in the meeting (leader, scribe who writes about the events of the meeting, other note-taker for writing down our ideas rather than the scribe, mediator who calls out “BACON” when we all need to be quiet and calm down, timekeeper, and reader who reads back and reviews notes). We had to remember our guidelines that we had all created for our family life, such as the use of positive behaviors over negative behaviors (this time we decided to print them out and post them on the refrigerator).   But it was worth it. 
We created new chore charts for who does what chore each week (and decided we’d rotate it to allow everyone to learn and do different chores).  We created separate “star” charts which have only one box to “star” for chores, one box for academics, one box to “star” for self-organization, and then we discussed resolutions, goals, and action plans.  We made individual goals and put a box on the new star charts for those. For example, my daughter decided to face her fear and work towards being a goalie.  My oldest son wants to improve his swimming. My husband and I both chose to improve our health, but with our own action plans.  Then, we decided we wanted to do a family goal. The kids talked about the good things in our family, and the things they want to improve.  They decided they wanted to make our family even better…and on top of the action plan they started?  I’m not kidding…after all that “hemming”and “hawing” from the past, they decided we should continue family meetings.  Now we have a box on our star charts for working on our family goal.
 As usual, we finished with our favorite part--choosing who would get to pick a family activity for next week.  This time everyone had new ideas of what they’d like to do when it was his/her turn to pick.  Who was picked?  What did that person choose to do?  Well…I guess I’ll have to say… that’s for another post!  May you have a wonderful day with all the wonderful people in your life.