Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring is in the Air

Spring provides families with a perfect opportunity to begin or renew their committment to spend quality time together as families (and I don't mean out on the sports fields watching your kids!). For our family, there is no better place to connect with each other than out on the trails hiking, especially now when the hills are emerald green from all of the rains and the meadows are carpeted in wildflowers! Being out together in the fresh air and open space clears our heads and our hearts, gives us new perspectives on our relationships with each other and allows us to see and appreciate each other and the beauty of the world around us. Many wonderful discussions have taken place spontaneously while walking hand and hand down the trail! To encourage this closeness, I suggest that sensitive topics like grades or consequences be off limits on these hikes. Try to safe-guard this time for discussions that bring you together.  

Another family activity to encourage closeness and discussion is writing in and illunstrating a family journal together. You can buy a blank book, like a sketch book, or make one yourself and buy plenty of art supplies. The kids will love to help pick these out. Take the book and the markers with you on your hikes, find a special place to sit and write, and choose a meaningful question like: “What I value most in life?” or "How can I make the world a better place?” or “My favorite family memory is” or “My hero is and why”. There are so many good questions to ask. Take turns responding and decorating the pages. It’s a great way to reflect on life together and get to know each other better. Just when you thought you knew what someone was going to say, you will be surprised! It’s also fun to go back and read the entries and see how much the art-work has changed; yet the essence of who we are stays the same. I admit we did this alot when our kids were younger. I realize if you have not been doing this, it will probably be hard to start when they are teenagers, but it's worth a try!

Like Mother Earth, I believe we all have "emotional seasons" in our lives. Let Spring be your guide and ask each other:  What has been laying dormant in you during this season of Winter.  What talents or yearnings have gone underground and now want to burst forth in Spring, like shoots of grass or buds of flowers that transform the dreariness of Winter into brilliant color in Spring! Think about one talent you want to develop and focus on this Spring. It could be: learning to play guitar, playing more tennis or other physical activitiy, or doing something creative. The act of writing it down gives voice to your desires and allows family members to support you to reach those goals. With everything on our plates, it's difficult to be a well rounded person and develop all of our talents and interests. I find if you consciously focus on and nurture one aspect of yourself each season of your life, your life will be more balanced & full. This Spring, I am excited to be particpating in an Art Trek weekend with 8 of my friends-thanks Lilly for encouring this. I hope doing art, and not being critical of my work, will get my creative energy flowing. 

Here is to spending quality time with your family and friends and nurturing your talents and interests!
Happy Spring!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Birthday Celebration of the Trees

 A few weeks ago, it was the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, which is like a modern Jewish Arbor Day or Earth Day.  Similar to Yom Kippur when we look at our relationships with other people and make amends; on Tu B’Shevat, we turn our attention towards Earth.  This holiday is a Sacred Opportunity for families (not just Jewish families) to look at the “foot-print” (measure of the impact human activities have on the environment) they are leaving and to start changing their daily habits so we all tread more lightly on this beautiful planet of ours.

As far as this holiday goes, all we really need to know about our relationship with Earth, we learn from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (one of my all-time favorite children’s books):
“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.  I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.  And I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs-…
I’m the Lorax who speaks for the trees which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please.  But I’m also in charge of the Brown Bar-ba-loots who played in the shade in their Bar-ba-loot suits and happily lived, eating Truffula Fruits.
NOW… thanks to your hacking my trees to the gound, there’s not enough Truffula Fruit to go around”.
As the visionary story continues, the Lorax sends the Bar-ba-loots away because they can not find food to eat followed by the Swomme-Swans who can not sing because they have smog in their throats, followed by the Humming-Fish who can not hum for their gills are all gummed. The Lorax tells the disastrous story of how our greed and short-sightedness are polluting and destroying the Earth and all her creatures.   Thankfully, the story ends with a hopeful message about how we can make amends to Earth and conserve and protect our world:
“And all that the Lorax left here in this mess was a small pile of rocks, with one word…. “UNLESS”….
UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not…
You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a Truffula.  Treat it with care.
Give it clean water.  And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest.  Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends
May come back.”
When we read The Lorax together as a family, we are inpsired by it's message to celebrate the miracles of Nature and take care of the Earth.  With younger children,a magical way to celebrate is to read the book and then go off into Nature and stumble across a small pile of  rocks, with one word…. “UNLESS”!  Obviously planted there by the parent before the walk, the child might come to believe in the Lorax or at least the wonders of Nature! For older kids, take the opportunity to discuss different ways you can protect the Earth & reduce, reuse and recycle. 
Another way to celebrate the trees is by sharing a meal that includes all kinds of fruits, nuts and seeds. I love choosing fruited recipes, going to the farmers market and then serving them all week. Try dressing your salad with oranges, grapefruit, kiwi and pomegrantes seeds. Add nuts, dried apicots, or dates to your rice.  Try an apricot or mango glaze on your chicken or fish.  Try exotic things & celebrate the trees. Before the meal, it's nice for kids to come up with their own blessing of thanking the trees for all of its gifts.
Finally, another way to celebrate trees is to plant something in honor of a loved one. This could be in memory of someone who has died or in celebration of someone's life. When our beloved dog, Sierra, died- we planted a huge pot of Lamb's Ear to remind us of her silkly, soft ears. The whole family also decorated the planter with special memories of her.  Whenever I am missing her, I go outside and "pet" the lambs ear and remember how special she was. Just think, if every year your family planted something in honor of someone you love, your garden would look beautiful and your outside space would have so many memories & stories of those you love! Kids might enjoy painting rocks with the person's name on it & place it near the planting. Then, you would also have momentos of their art work every year.

If we do this, maybe the Lorax and his friends will come back & live in our world! 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"I Have a Dream"... Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

In my humble opinion, everyone needs a hero to look up to, to inspire them to be the best they can be. For my Dad, & many others, that person was Martin Luther King. I can proudly say that my Dad felt so strongly about what King stood for, he participated in the March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  One of my daughter's favorite days of school was when Poppey came to her class and shared his experience. The photo I have of the class crossing their hands in front & holding hands is priceless!

In the spirit of MLK, there are a couple family activities you can do to honor King's memory.
  • You can learn about African American History and Culture by visiting a Museum together or going to the library & reading books about the Civil Rights Movement.
  • You can dedicate the day as a day of service & volunteer as a family at a local food pantry that serves homeless or anywhere else & do this in his honor.
  •  If there is a March in your community protesting some injustice, you can "pray with your feet" and join the March. This is  a powerful way to teach kids King's message: "When we all march together, we can change things."
  • One of my favorite things to do is for everyone in the family to write their own "I Have a Dream" speech. Tell the kids this is not the place to dream about material things they want for themselves; but for bigger wishes for the whole world or how YOU might make the world a better place in your own way. At dinner, have everyone read their dreams to each other. You might be surprised by the depth of your kids' compassion & worldliness. After sharing your personal dreams, you could each commit to one small step to making the dream come true.

Here is to making the world a kinder place. Feel free to comment on how your family observes Martin Luther King Jr.