Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Fun – 6 Ways to Stimulate Family Stories at Holiday Gatherings

November is National Family Stories Month. Together with Thanksgiving, it is the perfect time to reminisce about our blessings and consider what and who we are thankful for. In addition to recalling our gratitude, it is heartwarming to share those thoughts with our loved ones. They need to know how much we appreciate them.

To encourage everyone to get into the act, take time to plan some fun activities for your next holiday gathering with friends and family. Whether you have a small group or a large one, everyone loves to hear a good story. From the youngest and to the oldest members of the assemblage can participate when you use simple memory prompts to get people thinking – and sharing.

The challenge is to capture all those great family stories before they are lost. One easy way to save them is by using a recorder, whether it is cassette tape, digital audio or video. If the recording device has a USB connector, you can easily transfer the information to a computer and/or create a CD or DVD to share with others. Best of all, have fun and really get to know each other!

As you make the final preparations for Thanksgiving over the next few days, think about ways to get people started talking about those precious family stories. WARNING: Consider the best time to start these exercises. If your family is like mine, right before you eat dinner is probably NOT the right time: the guests may not have the patience on empty stomachs to listen to everyone’s stories. A better time could be after the meal is finished, perhaps while you are letting your food “settle” before tackling the pumpkin pie and other delectable desserts.

Here are some simple story prompts to help people recall their memories in fun ways:

1. I am thankful for …
This is probably the most common Thanksgiving activity, as each person takes a turn to describe who or what they are thankful for. It is an easy icebreaker, but it may help to give an example or two to get people in the mood to participate. If someone can’t think of anything, offer to let them pass until later, or give them another question.

2. What I like best about Thanksgiving is …
Responses to this question may range from visiting with relatives from near or far away, from favorite foods to football games, from nature walks to afternoon naps, from yummy desserts to plentiful leftovers. Each person may relate to something unique to them.

3. I felt special when …
This memory prompt is a little more revealing than some of the others. If the speaker gives a short answer, ask for more details about the recollection. If they never felt special, remind them of a time when you thought they were special. You may surprise them with your own memories about them.

4. Draw from the hat
Here’s your chance to get really creative. Write a variety of questions onto small slips of paper and put them into a hat or bowl or basket. You can customize the questions to fit your own family or group of friends, mixing serious questions with silly ones. Be prepared to allow guests to switch the question if they are embarrassed or reluctant to answer. Remember that the purpose of the questions is to learn more about them while having fun with everyone.

5. Photo albums
Pull out your old family photo albums. Let each person find a picture of themselves and describe the occasion, including who, what, where, when and why. This is a great learning experience, especially for younger family members who may not know many of the old family stories.

6. Cherished heirlooms
Most families have some cherished heirlooms or stories that have been around for many years. Think about things like hand-made ornaments, sentimental trinkets, an old quilt, a child’s rocker, or anything else that makes you recall a loved one. Move one of your favorite items into the room, or take a photo of several of them if they are not on the premises. Ask your most knowledgeable guests to talk about the origin of the item, especially where it came from and why it is special to your family.

7. Thanksgiving Keepsake for Kids
Here is a simple activity to keep children occupied either before or after dinner. Kids as young as four can draw pictures; they can also talk about their own impressions about the big holiday gathering. This free template is available on my website, but you can easily make your own version to get all the children involved. The great thing is that they can create their own keepsake to help them remember time spent with their loved ones.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tall, Taller, Tallest

One of the things I remember most vividly about fifth grade was being the second-tallest kid in the class. Another girl was the taller, but I came in a close second at over five feet. Little did I know that would be the end of my surprising growth spurt.

For some reason, our class had to line up by height that year, with the shortest in the front and the tallest in the back. That really emphasized the fact that the boys in general were shorter than the girls. On the rare occasion that dance partners were paired up, none of the boys wanted to dance with the ‘freaks’ like my friend and me. So we danced with each other.

I was convinced that I would always be tall. The one boy I really liked was a full head shorter than I was and of course he liked a little girl who was sweet and tiny, not a tomboy like me. So I always said it didn’t bother me and I continued to be ‘one of the guys’ instead of a girlfriend. My one sympathetic concession was when I noticed that a boy was overly conscious of his lack of height. Then I usually sat down or slouched just so he wouldn’t be reminded of the difference.

Fast forward about seven years to preparation for high school graduation. Once again, we were told to line up according to height. Without any hesitation, I meandered on down to the end of the line where my guy buddies were lining up.

Surprisingly, they started laughing at me! I had a bit of a reputation for frequently clowning around and they all thought I was being funny. They didn’t know I was actually serious. It wasn’t until one of my friends on the basketball team came over to me, put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Pipsqueaks belong at the other end.” As I looked up and up and up at him, it suddenly became obvious to me that he indeed was considerably taller than me. How had I missed that?

Somehow, all through high school, I never noticed that the boys had started to shoot up, while I had barely grown any taller since fifth grade. Being buddies with all the guys at school, I never dated much. In fact, on my few dates, I was always too shy to sit or stand very close to the boys. Oh, I also still tended to slouch.

Remember my last blog about not having any depth perception? I always wondered if that was part of the problem, too, with my height perception. Anyway, by that time, considerably more than half the class had grown taller than me, including many of the girls.

At just over five feet two inches and a quarter tall, I didn’t want to be teased with “Five foot two, eyes of blue, etc.” So if anyone ever asked about how tall I was, I always said “five foot two and three quarters.” I don’t recall now exactly why I felt compelled to stretch the extra half inch. But even today, I’m tempted once in a while to still exaggerate it, just that tiny little bit.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Batting an Eye

By fourth grade, I discovered I had no natural athletic ability. That was a shame, because I loved to watch my older sisters and the kids in the neighborhood play baseball. As much as I begged, pleaded and cajoled them, no one ever wanted me on their teams.

Okay, so I couldn’t hit the ball, catch or throw, but I could run like the wind – at least in my own mind. What no one realized at the time was that I had no depth perception. That quirk turned out to be due to something called amblyopia, or “lazy eye.” My right eye was dominant and I never “learned” how to judge how far away objects were.

Mom took me to the eye doctor’s office every year for new glasses that just kept getting stronger and stronger (think Coke-bottle glasses), but I still couldn’t see very well. Eventually, she took me to eye specialists all the way up in Chicago. Looking back, the amazing thing is that my gutsy mother had never driven in a big city before. She managed to overcome her own fears and take me for monthly office visits for several years.

On the very first visit to the specialist, they discovered the amblyopia, but also that I was near-sighted in one eye, far-sighted in the other and cross-eyed to boot. As a kid I called it “cross-sighted,” because it somehow sounded more poetic to say “near-sighted, far-sighted and cross-sighted.”

Correcting this eye condition is more successful at younger ages. At the grand old age of ten, I was past the threshold of where treatment would definitely help. But they tried. That first day, I had to start wearing an ugly black patch (like a pirate) over my good eye. The theory was to force the weaker eye to do all the work. My vision was so bad that at dinner that night when we had peas (which I loved), I couldn’t keep them on my fork to get to my mouth. Finally, in frustration, Mom let me use a spoon.

Eventually, I used a flesh-colored adhesive eye patch, which was slightly less noticeable, followed later by eye drops to blur my good eye. Over the next couple of years, my vision improved marginally, but not enough to do much good or last permanently.

So now, many years later, how is it? Well, I do drive the car, but when I hear a crash, I know I’ve gotten too close. (Just kidding!) Actually, I tend to over-compensate for the lack of depth perception and allow p-l-e-n-t-y of extra room for passing and parking. I just have to drive forward and backward more times than most people to get into a parallel parking space. Thank Goodness for diagonal parking.

After all these years, what stands out most about this experience while growing up? It has to be the gratitude I feel because my parents made the sacrifice to get me the best medical care they could find. Considering we had seven kids at home, that was no easy task. After all, both time and money were in short supply.

So what was the final impact on my fledgling baseball career? Well, they finally let me play, as long as I was the catcher. Ha! What a joke on me that turned out to be. It seemed like every year I ended up getting hit in the head with a baseball bat for standing too close to home plate. Sure, it might have broken my glasses, but at least I got to play!

Help your children save their memories with my FREE Thanksgiving Keepsake for Kids.

Friday, November 5, 2010

National Family Stories Month - Perfect Pear Picking

November Is National Family Stories Month – What’s YOUR Story?

One of my fondest memories is about a beautiful Fall day at my grandparents’ farm in mid-November. The day was sunny, cool and crisp, with a definite nip in the air. Years previously, they had started an apple and pear tree orchard that was especially abundant that year.

My family made an annual trek out to the farm to help harvest the fruit, often with my cousins coming along. But whenever possible, I cherished the opportunity to spend time by myself out at the farm with Grandma and Grampa.

I grew up loving both apples and pears, but the grocery stores never seemed to carry my favorite pears, the kind that Grampa grew. They are best picked after a hard freeze, so that is how I remember the time of year. The fruit is green, a little lumpy and almost as hard as a rock – literally! Some of them are so huge that a little girl can barely wrap her hands around the circumference.

Naturally, as we picked the green pears, I HAD to try one (or two, or maybe even three), which almost certainly resulted in a tummy ache later that night. I worked diligently to gnaw off the peel until I got a small bite started, then savored the crunchy, gritty flesh inside. The texture always reminded me of fresh coconut right from its just-cracked hard shell.

As the pears ripened at home, their green color transformed to a lovely shade of yellow. At the same time, they gave off an intoxicating aroma that called to me by name, “Elizabeth, e-LIZ-abeth…” until I finally had to chomp down another one.

Regrettably, this variety of pears doesn’t keep well for very long. Once they turned yellow, they quickly over-ripened. It wasn’t long before we had to peel and cook up the rest of them for longer keeping. At that point, the pears were still okay to eat, but they no longer had that marvelous crunch and texture that I loved.

Ten years ago, I discovered that my husband’s aunt and uncle had a pear tree that was the same variety as Grampa’s. I begged and badgered them long enough that now every year they bring us a “care package” of pears that allow me to reminisce about my grandparents and their perfect pear trees. Oh, by the way, I still have to grab one right away and eat it while it is wonderfully hard and crunchy. Thank Goodness, I’ll never learn any better!

About thirty years ago, my parents, son Jason and I got carried away and picked seven full bushels of apples! Just so you can appreciate our culinary creativity, here is an excerpt from my book, Granny’s Guide to Fun & Fabulous Family Stories, that follows up on that apple-picking adventure:

With all that food stockpiled, we stuffed ourselves (as well as family, friends and neighbors) with all manner of scrumptious apple delicacies.

The delicious aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg filled our house almost every day, making our mouths water in anticipation. We had apple pie, apple crisp, apple cake, apple coffeecake and apple pudding. And still we had more apples.

We enjoyed fried apples, caramel apples, taffy apples, apple butter, apple salads, apple muffins and apple dumplings until the house seemed to have a perpetual aroma of cinnamon. And still we had more apples.

Jason took brightly polished red and yellow apples to school for his birthday treat and for his teacher, too. For Christmas, we even hung shiny red apples by ribbons onto our tree. And still we had more apples.

We had enough apples to last us all through that Fall and Winter and into Spring. By the time we had finally finished eating all those apples, I realized two things: 1) an apple a day really DOES keep the doctor away because we didn’t get sick all winter long and 2) I never EVER got tired of apples!

Help your children save their memories with my FREE Thanksgiving Keepsake for Kids.