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Our Savorite Things

Sunday Night Dinners–The Importance of a Family Meeting

Sunday Night Dinners–The Importance of a Family Meeting

Last year, we were lucky enough to see best-selling author and New York Times family editor Bruce Feiler, who has done an intense study of what makes families happy, found models of what works.  One of the best things about his talk (and his books) was that it doesn’t seem so hard.  He gives you manageable chunks of ideas, and lots of specific tips that seem eminently doable.

Feiler’s philosophy is rooted in the group dynamic practice of “agility.”  The best organizations (and, as it turns out, the happiest families), have “teams do things in small chunks of time, adjust constantly, and review their progress frequently. Ideas don’t just flow down from the top but percolate up from the bottom. The best ideas win, no matter where they come from. . . . Agile families have a system to change and react to family chaos in real time.”  

One of the cornerstones of creating an agile family is instituting a weekly family meeting.  Bruce credits it as being among the most impactful ideas they introduced into their lives since having children.  With such a recommendation, we decided to give it a go.  And, as I said, it didn’t seem that hard to get going.  

We gather over Sunday night dinners, since it’s a good time to be able to plan for the week.  We like to start positive, so we first do a go around of saying what we liked best about the week or the weekend.  We often talk specifically about what worked well in our family that week.  Then, we do a go round about what didn’t go so well.  It seems to help our kids be open about what they are struggling with because my husband and I certainly have no shortage of things that we feel we could do better.  And they are not always earth shattering things.  Sometimes it’s just being better about putting your shoes away when you come in the house.  One rule we try hard to stick to, but that is a challenge for my kids, is sticking with your own issues.  (“I know what your goal should be,” they not-so-helpfully intone to their sibling.)

While we don’t do it every week, it certainly has made a difference in how our family relates to each other the weeks that we do.  Just the symbolic act of having goals of what you’re going to work on and writing them down together makes you a more mindful family citizen, more concerned, and more engaged. 

And just to make sure everyone’s focused, we end the meetings by distributing that week’s allowance, but more on that later!

Preserving Baby's First Photo

Preserving Baby's First Photo

These days, the first photo of our little ones emerges before they do: the sonogram. As you may have noticed, they’re not printed on the most sturdy of materials. Indeed, the Scrapbook Preservation Society (SPS) has gone so far as to call them “unstable.” How do you ensure that you can preserve that photo as a memento for the longer-term? According to the SPS, in addition to keeping the original one, you should also photocopy it onto white, archival paper. Alternatively, you can scan it on a laser printer, which uses the same processes as a photocopier. Be sure that you don’t keep it under PVC, they warn, as that will destroy your photos. Instead, rely on the polypropylene covers that are in many albums already.  

If you’ve never seen the site, it’s worth taking a stroll through the SPS site. Even for non-scrapbookers, as we are, it had a trove of great information about how to ensure your precious family memories make it to the next generation. When we go to the photo album or craft sections of stores and manufacturers throw around terms like “acid-free” or “archival,” it can be hard to know what you can really trust, and what you really need to spend extra on to ensure your items are protected. The SPS site cleared up a lot of these buzzwords and gave us answers for how to protect our photos, what we should look for on packaging, and how to store our albums.

After all, we'd like to share Baby's first photo-op when he or she is all grown up. 

Travel Journals: Enjoying the Ride

Travel Journals: Enjoying the Ride

I took my young children to Paris for spring break last year after we went to see their grandparents in the UK.  A lot of folks asked me whether or not my kids were too young to get much out of the trip, whether they were bored or not excited about what we did.  I traveled a lot when I was little, and I’m grateful that my mom gave me the idea to keep a travel journal from a very young age.  This kept me invested in all the activities we did, and it did the same thing for my kids.  When I was younger, journaling meant collecting “stuff,” tickets, postcards, menus, whatever I could get my chubby hands on.  But the collecting itself gave me a focus when I was at a cathedral or a museum, and, as important, an activity to do when we got back into the car.  As I got older, I added pictures and descriptions.  In my early teens, the journal started to become more of a traditional journal, a place to reflect on the experiences I had, more than just a travelogue.  It is a fact that the trips I kept journals on I remembered better than those I didn’t.

I got my kids excited about the journal idea on the plane over.  As soon as we hit the airport, I gave them new notebooks and a special pen for my older daughter, colored pencils for my younger one.  We didn’t feel pressured to write every day or keep every last item.  But even my six-year-old went excitedly from room to room at the Pompidou center, first figuring out what to draw and then sketching her favorite piece for about 20 minutes.  

And as much fun as these journal were at keeping my kids engaged in what we saw, they have been even more fun after the trip.  The best part was comparing their views of what we’d seen to what I’d written in my journal on my first trip lo these many years ago.  Reviewing the journals lets us relive the trips we took.  

Here are a few we liked, although we are also partial to the basic black and white composition books:

  • Nichols does these lovely “little adventure journals.”  He hand cuts tiny pieces of paper to make each picture, and each journal comes with 25 collage illustrations inside.
  • Martha Stewart, as always, has a great DIY travel journal that seems easy enough that even we could do it.  You can do it with your kids to build anticipation for the trip. Doesn’t seem too hard, even for us!  
  • For the tweens in your group, a simple personalized rainbow journal would do the trick. Here's one we liked from Frecklebox.

    Happy travel journaling! 

    Game On: Planning Family Game Night

    Game On: Planning Family Game Night

    With everyone bemoaning the loss of family time to screens, we have sought to replace weekend family movies with a game night. As with adults, sometimes there's groaning before everyone starts, but some popcorn and an hour later, everyone is hooked. 

    We have kids of different ages, and sometimes it's hard to find a game that works for everyone.  (Is it just us, or is every new game based on a favorite book/character/movie totally insipid and painfully long?) Here's a list of some of our favorites, culled to appeal to everyone from adults to pre-readers.  All of these games have active wait times, meaning it's fun even when it's not your turn, a must when playing with little guys.  

    Heads up – 2+ players

    Boy, did this game save our life in the disneyland lines. It's Charades meets the $100,000 Pyramid in this electronic version of the Ellen Degeneres game show.  You choose a category and one player describes a word while his team guesses. When a correct guess is made, simply tilt the phone or tablet down, and a new word or phrase appears. With categories appropriate for kids or adults, teams can be mixed ages. Our pre-reader has someone whisper the words to him, so he gets a turn to act out as well. 

    Simon 

    It's as addictive as you remember. Yes, when you're not playing it, the sounds can drive you bonkers. But divvy the colors so that one person is responsible for one color, and it easily becomes a 4-person game. 

    Dicecapades 

    Karla's daughter gave this to us as a birthday, and it won us over with it's adorable mini dice. The set comes with over 100 dice and tests your ability to answer trivia, physical challenges, and word, number, and drawing games. Some of these, especially trivia, are more suited to older kids or adults, but kids definitely had the edge in the dice-stacking categories. It works best with mixed-age teams. 

    Spot it

    The round tins of the spot it game series make them the perfect restaurant game. Players must find the item in their card that matches the center card before their competitors do. It can sometimes take a bewildering amount of time to find a match simply because the flower on your card is smaller than the one on the center card. When we play with much younger kids, we have adults count to 3 or 5 until they can shout out their match to even things up.  

    Memory

    Maybe it's because there's so much less swimming around in those little heads--no shopping lists, no wistful regrets--that our 4-year-old kicks our butt in the game. Routinely.  And now there are nice fun versions for every flavor, from a candy one to tools to Disney favorites. 

    Word-a-round (requires reading)

    Players try to identify words that have been written in a circle with no clear beginning or end. It's perfect for those 3rd-6th graders who are becoming established readers. 

    Beat the Parents

    This board game satisfies the kids' desire to team up against their parents. With different levels of questions aimed at parents or kids, it is designed precisely so that it's appropriate for both adults and kids. (Non-readers need to be on a team with readers, and the questions are geared to kids at least 5-years-old. 

    Mastermind 

    The old tagline for this classic game, "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master," still holds true. Although you can play this game with only two kids, it's helpful, especially for younger kids, to team up and jointly strategize. great for honing their deductive reasoning skills, so go ahead and get it down from your parents' attic.  There are even travel versions available.

    Happy gaming! 

    Online Baby Journaling for Sharing with Family

    Online Baby Journaling for Sharing with Family

    For all those physical mementos of childhood, Savor has you covered.  But most of us have a combination of physical and digital mementos – and for those digital ones – Tinybeans offers a great and comprehensive solution. 

    There are number of apps for sharing kids’ special moments with a smaller, more intimate circle than all of your Facebook followers.  It’s great for grandparents because you don’t need a social media account to use it, a simple e-mail will do.  They can select how often they want updates of the kids and they go straight to their inbox.  If you want to share the photos on social media, all the basic options from Facebook to Instagram are there with the touch of a button. 

    But what most impressed us about Tinybeans is that, like Savor, they don’t just help you share your memories, they help you organize them—easily.  It’s not just a photo sharing app, it’s an app that helps you organize the digital trove of photos we are all creating and also overwhelmed by.

    When you first set up Tinybeans, they ask you a couple of basic questions about your kids, such as ages and birthdays.  It instantly creates a “file” for each kid, so that when you enter a new photo, you can easily tick off which of the kids is in a given photo.  It also prompts you with labels, such as milestones or “firsts” which conveniently lets you mark a specific occasion (first steps or your height and weight at a certain age).

    We have all had the experience of searching for a certain photo of our kids among the 1000-5000 we take in a year.  But just like the labels The Library provides to help you sort and locate items, Tinybeans makes organizing these items easy.  Whether you take a photo in the app or add it from your photos, it automatically appears on a calendar of the month.  If you want to have a picture a day or create a journal from specific dates, you can see at a glance what dates you have covered, and where there are holes. We love this feature. 

    We started with the basic version, which is free on the app store, but for $8/month or $50 per year, we found the premium version was worth it.  First, it allows you to upload a bunch of photos at once.  This was key for things like our pumpkin patch visit, when we wanted to share a lot of photos.  We also love that it freed us from the 30 second time-limit on video uploads, so we don’t have to spend extra time deciding which moments have to be spliced off. 

    Like Savor, it’s clear a lot of thought went into the details of this app. And while we're all about collecting and organizing physical mementos and memories, those digital ones deserve just as much attention. 

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