Friday, February 29, 2008

Fun in a Box Friday!

Nothing says weekend like Fun in a Box Friday. When my two sisters and I were growing up, Friday's nights seemed picture perfect. We ate spaghetti and meatballs for dinner (considered a real family treat), snuggled in sleeping bags in front of our of our 10"x10" (yes, I mean inch not foot) black and white t.v. and watched the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family, back to back, during Prime Time. That seemed like heaven. Ann, Ellen, and I would start acting crazy the moment we got home from school, in anticipation of the fun awaiting us that evening. My mother even developed a diagnosis. She called it the "Friday Night Crazies."

At our house we celebrate many Friday's with our Fun-In-A-Box box. It's filled with slips of paper, each revealing a different fun activity submitted by someone in the family. Examples include things such as bowling, watch a movie, eat dessert under a tent, shop in the $1 bin at Target, play a game, make smores, sleep in sleeping bags, play frisbee, and do a craft (guess who wrote that one?!). We are also sure to submit festivals, carnivals, and other attractions listed in the newspaper, as they appear. We rotate who the lucky family member is that gets to draw the weekly activity. Once randomly selected, we're off for an evening of fun.

Notes about why this works... First, we don't try to do it every week. Impossible. Between school obligations, birthday parties, and other life events, we would never be able to sustain it every week all year. Instead, I slip a note in their lunch bag or cereal bowl announcing that today is a "Fun in a Box Friday." Then they have the day to anticipate the fun that awaits. Second, the selections are a range from simple (dessert in a tent or game night) to the more elaborate (do a craft or attend a festival). Third, we set a dollar limit ($10.00) on the submissions they are allowed to make. That way it's less about money and more about doing a fun activity together. My husband and I are the ones who submit the more costly activities (bowling or a festival).

Grown-up version...

Let's face it... Fun-in-a-Box-Friday could work for you and a group of friends, you and your boyfriend or girlfriend, or you and your office mates. Wouldn't Friday's in the office be more fun if there was a box from which you drew a random, but fun activity, in which everyone participated?! Heck yes.

But, that's not my adult version for the day. No, we will call the grown-up version... Free For All Friday. The purpose behind this is to have you - my loyal blog readers - submit questions, challenges, consultations or requests for a creative solution to something you have on your mind. It could be how to organize something in your house, a gift idea, an idea for a party favor, or holiday celebration. You name it. The real beauty behind this is that I will post my attempt at an answer and then each of you can take a crack at it by posting your response. That way, the person posing the question receives the benefit of our collective creativity.

I ran this idea past a loyal confidante of mine and she immediately posed a challenge. So here we go... week one and we are already in business. She is looking for an inexpensive party favor ($1-$3/per favor) that she can present to each of the six boys on her son's soccer team at the conclusion of soccer season. She wants it to be something they are likely to hold onto for longer than it takes to get from the field to the car. The boys range in age from 5-6.

Hmmm... whistles?... no, the other soccer mom's would kill her. Soccer ball cookies wrapped in cellophane (everything looks better wrapped in cellophane - a topic we'll talk about later) and sitting on top of AstroTurf? I like the idea, but will she think it won't last long enough? Soccer ball hats (sold at party supply stores) with a fun note that says, "Hats off to you!"? Is a hat anti climatic for a 5 year old boy? Oooohhh... but the idea improves if she brings Sharpie markers and lets each of the boys sign one another's hats, including their team number. I still like the idea of somehow using AstroTurf. I'll keep pondering, but now you give it a try....

Signing off until tomorrow, ____________ Saturday.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Three Time Thursday

Today is the day when all things come in threes. This started with a sand glass at bath time. The boys love taking baths and left up to their own devices would spend hours playing in the water with their toys. We purchased a sand glass, so we had some kind of tool to manage their time and their expectations of how long bath time would last. The agreement is, once body and hair is washed, the boys can play in the bath tub for two turns of the sand glass. EXCEPT on Thursdays. On Thursdays we do all of our favorite things three times. We get three turns of the sand glass at bath time, three books at book time, three cookies for dessert, three kisses, three hugs, and three toys of their choice to accompany them to bed.

We don't waste time while driving in the car, taking walks, or listening to people talk either. We search for the number three in street signs, license plates, and house addresses. We look for objects in a sequence of three - three pumpkins at Halloween, three American flags hanging in a row, three dogs being walked, three fire hydrants along the street, three people running - anything and everything that we can spot in groups of three. When people talk, we listen for the number three - $3 while standing in the supermarket line, #-9317 when exchanging phone numbers, 3 years old when telling our age, and on and on and on. Matthew turns four in April, so I've thought about switching from Three Time Thursday to Four Time Friday. How can I do that? And give up _______________ Friday?!?!?!? Not a chance!

Now for a grown up version...

I have a dream that I will play by my own rules and work harder at honoring Thank You Thursday. I once received an article from a friend about the president of Harvard University - arguably one of the more demanding and time consuming jobs a person could have. Yet, this man scheduled time each week to sit down and craft thank you notes to a handful of people he felt were deserving. If we stop and think about it, there are at least a few people a week we could thank for making our life a better place (friends, parents, colleagues, mailman, pharmacist, preschool teachers, etc...). So pledge along with me. Each Thursday you will present at least one person with a thank you - written, verbal, edible...whatever strikes your fancy. I'll start...
  • Thank you Amy for knowing just when to call and brighten my day.

  • Thank you Cassie for inviting me on a much needed walk yesterday. Your company and the conversation was just what the Dr. ordered.

  • Thank you Debbie for the adult responses you've sent to my blogs all week. It is the hardest I laugh all day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Welcome to Wacky Wednesday!

Good morning and Happy Wacky Wednesday. This is one of my favorite days of the week, because it is so easy to have fun with. The point of Wacky Wednesday is to search the world around us for things that are not quite as they should be - things out of place. We've seen all kinds of wacky things over time - things such as a bushel of sixteen helium balloons flying out the window of a moving car; dog bones being handed out at the McDonald's drive through; a man pushing a medicine ball, painted to be a globe, while walking from California to Philadelphia; people wearing shorts on a cold winter day; and a water tank that we imagine has no water in it.

We aren't simply observers on Wacky Wednesday. We also actively create wackiness around us. Last week we walked in and out of day care backwards. The week before we wore mismatched socks. Other weeks have included activities such as wearing our t-shirts backwards; eating pancakes, eggs, and bacon for dinner, instead of breakfast; sporting red galoshes with orange shorts on a hot summer day; eating with a spoon instead of a fork; eating two desserts when one is the rule or eating dessert and then dinner; and singing instead of talking. Of course we finish every Wacky Wednesday by reading the book Wacky Wednesday, written by Theo LeSieg (make sure you leave plenty of time).

Two more things about this activity. First, a great byproduct of Wacky Wednesday is that it requires the boys to use their imagination. Every once in a while one of them will say they don't have an imagination. I promptly ask them to close their eyes and describe what they see. After three or four minutes of non sequiturs, I gently point out that that was, in fact, their imagination at work. Second, this activity like each of others is carefully selected to require NO extra work on my part. We go about our business on Wednesdays and moving through the day while looking for Wacky things requires no extra time, no extra money, and no preparation. This is the key to making the idea work in the long haul.

I know I promised to provide a grown-up version each day, but not today. Looking for wacky things tests our creativity in the same way it tests the creativity of the children in our lives. So play along with the idea. Challenge your own creativity while doing things such as driving to and from work, waiting in line for lunch, sitting in a meeting, or running errands at your local supermarket. Wacky things are everywhere. How many can you find?

Signing off until tomorrow... __________ Thursday!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cartoon Tuesday

Cartoon Tuesday is the one day of the week that has changed over time. It used to be Tumble Tuesday, but morphed into Cartoon Tuesday when we moved from Kentucky to Texas and Tuesday tumble classes were no longer offered at the preschool.

Cartoon Tuesday has worked out well. While the Today Show is standard fare in our house on most weekday mornings, on Tuesdays it is all about Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog. The boys watch two cartoons of their choice, back to back, feeling like they've died and gone to heaven. As for me... I steal the 30 minutes they are held captive to empty trash cans around the house (Trash Tuesday) in preparation for pick up later in the morning. An added bonus is that on the other six mornings that the boys beg to watch cartoons, I have the perfect explanation - "Not today, it's not Tuesday." Then they go on about their business making a mess and a lot of noise.

As a side note.... As your kids get older, Cartoon Tuesday can turn into Car Tune Tuesday. This can give them control over the radio station you listen to on your way to and from school, sports practice, or just a trip to the grocery store.

Now for the grown-up version...

Telephone Tuesday. Life has a funny way of slipping by. I find that before I know it, three months have passed since I last spoke to my college and graduate school friends - the same friends I made pacts with, promising we would never be like those "other women" who just couldn't seem to hold it all together. I don't especially enjoy talking on the phone, but each Tuesday I try to select one neglected friend or family member and give them a call (usually on my cell phone, while driving somewhere, but if you're reading this mom and dad... while safely sitting on my living room couch). It's a small gesture, but over time, the periodic Tuesday phone calls have allowed me to stay in touch with people who might have fallen out of my network due to guilt. Jennie, if you're reading this and on the phone, get off. Today is your lucky day!

Tune in tomorrow for ______________ Wednesday!

Munchkin Monday and More

Good morning and Happy Monday! A few fun items of business and then onto a creative idea for the day.

First. "Wir"... Matthew, Ricky and mommy - that's who ended up sorting socks. If you have no idea what I am talking about, you might scroll back to Friday's post (2/22). It wasn't quite the roll I was looking for, but it was better than the boys rolling "du."

Second. Interestingly enough I received a magazine in the mail on Saturday and it had an article titled, "Connecting With Your Creativity." You will all be glad to know, we're on the right track. The article reiterates that all creative activity (even the non-crafty sort) requires a commitment of time. The author's recommendation is to jump start your creative self first thing in the morning. Maybe that is where I can come in. Check in with early in the day and get your own creative juices flowing.

Now a creative thought for the day. I have become somewhat obsessed with instilling a sense of time management and organization in my boys at an early age. I grew up in a house of only sisters, so the idea that my son could dissappear upstairs for 25 minutes to sharpen a pencil and then come down stairs forgetting why he went upstairs to begin with, is still a shocker. It seems to me the building blocks for teaching time management have to begin by learning the days of the week. For, you can't really learn how to budget your time if you don't know there are only two working days between Monday when the assigment was given and Wednesday when the assignment is due.

What I learned in the process is, that using a fun method for teaching (actually celebrating) the days of the week makes the week more fun for everyone. Join me as I use this week to walk you through the seven days... Beeny Family Style. As an added bonus, I've decided to add a grown-up version for anyone who is less worried about teaching their kids time management and is more interested in spicing up their own week

Munchkin Monday! All of my sons inherited my sweet tooth, so we start the week off with a bang. Monday morning I zip down the road and buy each boy two chocolate munchkins (for those who don't know... a munchkin is a donut hole). It costs me .75 cents and you can guarantee they know exactly which day of the week it is. This started one day when we made the fatal mistake of buying muchkins for the boys when stopping to buy gas. Thereafter, every time we bought gas the boys expected muchkins. Munchkin Monday was the perfect solution. It allowed us to reward them with a favorite treat and, at the same time, eliminate the expectation for munchkins every time we stopped at the gas station.

Now for us grown ups...

Magazine Monday. If you are anything like me, you have a small stack of magazines that you can't bring yourself to throw out because you still haven't made time to look through them. Monday is your day. Skip a chore, eat lunch by yourself at work, multitask while riding a stationary bike at the gym, or crawl into bed 20 minutes early. Whatever your tactic, use Monday to get lost in your favorite magazine.

Signing off until tomorrow.... _______ Tuesday!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Roll of the Die

In 1999 I went to Austria for my cousins wedding. One afternoon my mother and I were wandering in and out of little shops when I stumbled upon a red die, called a Chore Die. At the time I was single with no kids and living alone... but I saw the potential. I snatched it up and back to the states I went.

Ten years later the die sits prominently placed in our family silverware drawer. Each evening we roll it to see who gets to set and clear the dinner table. Each side of the die reads either "ich", "du", or "wir" - translation "I", "You", or "We." While each of the boys have their own set of ongoing chores such as feed the dog, clean your room, or bring in the garbage cans, the chore die takes a small daily task and creates some family fun around it being assigned.

I haven't seen one of these die anywhere in the states, but it sure wouldn't be hard to replicate. For the super industrious you could get a small block of wood, sand and paint it and then write the words on each side. For those of us without access to wood or sanders, how about the cardboard boxes they sell at Michaels for decoupaging? And if neither of those still seem up you alley, then how about a jar filled with slips of paper? The main idea is to create a sense of fun and anticipation around something that might otherwise be dreaded.

Once you have the "Chore-Die-Lense", you quickly see the potential for other uses. It can be used to divvy out the last yummy piece of cake, to decide who selects the pizza topping, the family outing, or a game on game night. In my case today, I will use it to determine who gets to sort the socks. Five people x 2 socks per day x 7 days = 70 socks per week (- 2 or 3 that get lost in dryer abyss). That's a lot of socks. Tune in Monday to discover the lucky winner.

Friday, February 22, 2008

One, Two, Three...Cheese!

I’ve spoken to creative friends and relatives of mine all over the map and together we have concluded that a way to measure your “fun factor” is by the number of times you have been asked to host Flat Stanley. I would have to say, I am moderately fun. I certainly haven’t been asked to host hundreds of these fellows, but I’ve hosted enough to be able to provide you with this fun idea…

Elementary kids all over the country (usually around the second grade) are challenged to send a Flat Stanley to friends and family around the globe who, in turn, escort and photograph Stanley on adventures - then passing him along to someone else with a comparably high “fun factor.” I personally have been responsible for getting Flat Stanley’s to places such as Arizona, Time Square, between the hedges at the University of Georgia, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, the farm fields of Iowa, and more.

If the idea is this contagious in a classroom setting, imagine how much it can be for you and your family or you and your friends. Find a fun family heirloom, a favorite stuffed animal, a t-shirt with some nostalgia, or anything else easy to pack. Next time you go on a vacation, or just embark on an outing in town, bring it along with you. Snap a family picture somehow showcasing the item. Imagine the lifetime of fun and challenge you could have filling a family photo album with pictures of your family mascot on a countless number of adventures. A bonus to this idea is it can persist long after your kids have left the house - for wherever they go, there’s a photo to be had!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Have I Got A Deal For You!

After a few internet problems, here is today's entry...

First. After only a couple of days we've already had close to 100 visitors. Thank you! It is especially fun to post a blog each day when you know you've got some viewers on the other end. Already I have some inquiries as to why the blog is named highlowaha, with the suggestion that I add the name's origin to my intro. This is kind of like getting to chapter 7 or 8 of a book and suddenly realizing how the book received its title. Rather than simply tell you, I thought I could create a fun little challenge (you should expect nothing less based on the premise of my website). Help me reach 5,000 hits, by passing my blog onto your friends or by being a loyal visitor yourself. The day after I hit 5,000, I will post the fun explanation. Post your prediction on the month and date you think it will happen and if you come closest, I'll send you a Random Act of Kindness through the mail.

Second. Valentine novelties are on sale for anywhere from 60-75% off at places like Hobby Lobby, Michaels, Joann's Fabric, and Target. While many of the clearance items are red, quite a few are pink and purple - both colors that could work for Easter. The same is true after Christmas when all things red and green go on sale -tissue paper, ornaments, containers, etc.... Many of those items could be tucked away and used to do something creative at either Valentine's Day or St. Patrick's Day. What about Halloween when prominent colors are black, orange, green, and purple? Orange and green carry us nicely into Thanksgiving. You get the gist. Sale items from one holiday can be used to create something thoughtful for another occasion. I bought three red lip magnets for ten cents a piece. Maybe I'll use them to tack a note of encouragement to the refrigerator for each of my sons or maybe I'll stick them to my mail box with a thank you note to the mail man. Either way... red lips can be used for something. How about you? Can you find something on sale by Monday that can be used to for an upcoming occasion?

Signing off until tomorrow...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

If I've noticed anything over time it is that creative people find one another... and in many cases help bring your creativity to a whole new level. Today's blog is compliments of my dear friend from Pennsylvania.

Nineteen years ago, while in graduate school, I started hosting an annual Random Acts of Kindness packaging party. It served two purposes. First, it was a great way for me to reconnect with friends who, because of the rigors of graduate school, I fell out of touch with. Second, it allowed me to share my obsession with mail - hoping in the process I might find some unsuspecting girlfriends who would keep me company.

I love sending packages. When other people are building their wardrobes and shoe selections, I am buying printed tissue paper, stickers, foam shapes, hole puches, crinkle of every color, sharpie markers, cool notecards, and above all CLEAN, NEW, WHITE BOXES! I have a collection that probably verges on excessive. What goes in the packages that I send is far less important than the cool packaging and thoughtful note surrounding the treat.

So what exactly is a Random Acts of Kindness Party? Once a year (usually two weeks before Halloween) I invite 10-12 women to my house (it can almost be more fun if the gathering of women is eclectic and don't already know each other). Their task is to bring to the packaging party two things - addresses for 3-4 people to whom they want to send a pick-me-up and a set of twelve small items that can be packaged in a box about 7x5x4 in size (bigger than that can be expensive to mail). Items are typically things such as fun packages of baked goods, bookmarks, candles, recipe cards, small picture frames, soaps, holiday socks, keychains, handmade braclets, etc.... All the items brought by your guests are placed on a community table from which they can shop around for the perfect combination of goodies to send the recipients of their packages.

My contribution is all the packaging supplies necessary to turn your package from simply being thoughtful to being the talk of the postoffice. Lucky party goers move from table to table selecting fun treats to mail to long lost friends, a neighbor needing a pick me up, an old boss or mentor, an aunt or uncle you rarely see, or someone else who is on your mind. Once the treats are selected, participants move to the boxing stations (usually set up all over the kitchen, living room, dining room). Here they select colorful tissue paper, crinkle, ribbons, and most importantly a notecard.

Before the packages are taped shut, one more small task! Placed inside each package is a small note reading "Catch the spirit, do a random act of kindness." This will often times spark a packaging party in another city (to which every once in a while, you might actually recieve and unexpected random act of kindness in the mail). Finally, the packages are wrapped, sealed, addressed, and then decorated on the outside with stickers and markers. This is why it is essential that the boxes are pristine, white boxes that have never been used (not even the pre-printed ones purchased at Target or the post office). I get mine from the Container Store, but if you don't have one near you, you can either order on-line or visit an office supply store like Staples or Office Depot (brown can work in a pinch, but markers are definately more vibrant on a white box).

Wanna do one? Either wait until September when I start planning my annual October party (and talking about it on my blog) or jump right in create your own occassion... St. Patrick's Day, spring break, or first day of summer could be examples.

The great pics are from my good friend's Random Acts of Kindness Party: Valentines Day! I was, in fact, the lucky recipient of a package - the fun contents of which you will have to wait until next Valentine's Day to discover! It, afterall, sparked a whole new fun and creative idea.

Signing off for the day....

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Warming up - Fruit Stand Fun

Today marks the first official day of my blog. Ultimately, it is my goal to use mundane happenings and the world around me to post a creative-idea-a-day. Many of the ideas will center around ways to slow the world down through family activities, traditions and rituals. I believe the childhood we hope to create for our children is not so much about the sheer number of hours spent, but instead about the quality of that time. Family activities, rituals, and traditions serve as a focused way to spend time with your children while making them feel special in the process. No promises about the daily post, but it is a little challenge I have created for myself.

I returned home late last night after a weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. When I woke up this morning the first thing I saw was the fruit holder sitting in the center of our kitchen table where the kids eat breakfast. It was still decorated for Valentine's Day. The idea....

How about creating a single space in your home that the family frequents to help build excitement and anticipation for upcoming holidays and family events. I didn't have the time or inclination to decorate my whole home for Valentine's day, but certainly I had it in me to transform my fruit stand centerpiece. By filling it with red fruit, plastic hearts and beaded hearts on a stick (along with fun place mats from Target), I could build some anticipation and magic around what might otherwise be an overlooked holiday. If not a fruit stand at the kitchen table, how about a mud room, a play room, or a mirror in the kids bathroom.

Next holiday... green for Saint Patrick's Day. Check me out on March 1 where I will insert a photo of the transformed fruit stand.