Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Our Family's Fourth Passover

Starting a new family tradition can be awkward or even feel silly. Sometimes that means that the tradition is not really a good "fit" for a family, but other times it just takes persevering and tweaking to get to the point where it is worthwhile. Such has been the case with our family's celebration of Passover. This year felt very comfortable and rich with meaning.

Part of the reason it felt so much more worthwhile than last year, I think, is because M has entered the "why" stage and was constantly asking us for the reason for everything that we were doing that was unusual. R and I loved the way this reminded us of Exodus 12:26-27

And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'

We really like the idea of passing on our faith in this way- building rituals into our family life that are not only poignant to us as mature Christians but that also cause our children ask questions which provide natural opportunities for us to explain things that are precious to us. We like being able to teach without constantly "talking at" our children. The questions allow them to lead the way.

As with last year's meal we adapted some elements from Jewish tradition and found others ourselves.

Early in the day, M and I took out the suitcases and packed them with things we might need for a trip. Then we carried them downstairs and set each person's suitcase beside their chair. We also draped each person's coat over their chair (A modern equivalent of God's command to the children of Israel to eat "with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.")

Before the meal, R hid pieces of leavened bread around the house for M to find. Once she found them we had her throw them out of the door.

We ate lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (spring greens) and drank grape juice for our Passover meal.

In a traditional Jewish Seder an extra cup is set out to symbolize the anticipation of the Elijah figure who will come and announce the coming of the Messiah. In folk Judaism, Elijah is said to sip from the cup of wine at each house on Passover night. We set out an extra cup with grape juice to symbolize the presence of the Messiah Jesus at our meal. M was particularly interested in this cup. We told her that it was for the Guest at our table whom we could not see. (You can just imagine how this would affect the active imagination of a two-year-old!)

After the meal, R read Exodus 11 and 12 aloud while M and I looked at the corresponding pictures from The Read and Grow Picture Bible.

And that's it! There are a lot of other things we could have done together to celebrate Passover, and maybe we will in future years, but for now, I'm glad that we've kept it manageable; I think we will be more likely to keep the tradition alive if it is simple.
Does your family do anything to commemorate Passover? Please feel very welcome to share your ideas and memories in the comments section.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Birdcall Pet Names

Lately I've been reading The Shaping of a Christian Family: How My Parents Nurtured my Faith by Elizabeth Eliot. I smiled at this anecdote that she shares about her father:

Wherever we went he watched for birds. He wanted so badly to give to each of us the love he had for those beautiful creatures ever since his teen years...He gave each of us a special bird call that he used instead of our name if we were at a slight distance away, in another room, across the street, or in the backyard. Mother's was the chickadee; mine was the wood peewee. As I write, it is springtime on the coast of Massachusetts and the wood peewee has come back for the summer. From time to time the tiny three note call rings pure and clear from the oak wood next to our house, and I want to run and say "Yes, Daddy?"

Friday, March 26, 2010

Find and Paste Letters

Here's an easy and engaging activity my mother recently did with M. She prepared pages with letters of the alphabet widely spaced out and asked M to search for occurrences of each letter in snippets of newspaper headlines, magazine articles, etc. Then my mother cut them out and M had the task of gluing them on to the correct area of each page.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Resurrection Rolls

A friend recently gave me this recipe for Resurrection Rolls, and I'll be making them for Easter breakfast this year. Each roll is baked with a marshmallow in the center so that, when it's broken open, one discovers that it's hollow inside-- just like the empty tomb. (The first comment below the recipe gives a couple of neat ideas for making the process of making the rolls meaningful, too)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Munchies for Game Nights

There is a little detail to which my mother consistently paid attention when we were growing up that I am convinced paid off exponentially in making our home an enjoyable place to be. Every time our family played a game together she was tireless in making sure we had tasty and healthy munchies at hand.

It gave people a little something to do when it wasn't our their turn, and made sure that everyone's blood sugar stayed at happy levels. Mostly she cut up fresh fruits and vegetables, but sometimes there was fresh popped popcorn too.

Such a simple thing, but a definite happy trademark of our home growing up- something our friends remember as well.

Has your family discovered any details that help to make game nights successful in your home? Please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Free Family Fun in Austin: Bats Under the Bridge

I just love exploring a location to uncover all of the interesting places and events that can be enjoyed for free or inexpensively. Our family has lived in Austin, Texas for a little over a year now, but before last week we had never gone to see the bats make their nightly emergence from under the bridge downtown. (And not just a few bats either- 1.5 million of the creatures live under that bridge, making it the largest urban population of bats in the world!)

It was definitely something interesting to behold. Just before sundown the bats began to flow out from under the bridge in a steady stream, and remained clustered together in a dark, silhouetted trail that reached across the sky for miles (pictures don't do it justice).

It turned out to be a very pleasant and unique family experience. We arrived at the bridge about a half an hour before sundown, and so had time to take a stroll by the lake during that golden hour before dusk. Then we found a place to sit together on the lawn and listened as the high frequency bat noises grew louder and louder and a few began to trickle out from under the bridge. For the next fifteen minutes or so they continued to fly out, and we chatted and watched.

Apparently, March is not the most exciting time to view the bats. (There aren't as many as there will be as the summer goes on). I imagine we will go back another evening later in the season to see them again.

Does your hometown have some frugal, unique activities or locations? It would be interesting to hear about them!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Painted Rocks Color Matching

M and I had fun the other day mixing tempera paints. "Let's see what color we get when we mix a little (yellow) into this (red) paint." I would say. "Orange!" she exclaimed as the colors began to mix.

After the paint was mixed into a new shade we used a cotton ball to paint one pocket of an egg carton. We painted a small rock the same color. Once every pocket and rock was painted we left it to dry for a couple of hours. When we came back, M had a new game for matching (find the rock that is the right color to go in each pocket). The nice thing about this toy is that the lid can be closed and so it can be carried around easily.

The bad thing about this toy (as we discovered) is that if you leave it outdoors to get rained on, you are back where you started with a gray rocks and a dingy egg carton! :-)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Manners Night

This is a tradition from my husband's family that we really like and look forward to carrying on with our own family when our children our old enough.

Every once in a while when my husband was growing up my mother- in-law would tell her family early in the day that dinner that night would be a "manners night." Dinner would be served in the dining room instead of at the kitchen table. A fancy tablecloth would be spread, and the table was laid with the best dishes and silverware. Each place setting was complete with all of the extra fancy silverware, etc. It was an opportunity to practice using the best manners and to learn about table etiquette. That night, absolutely no elbows were allowed on the table; everyone placed napkins in their laps, and no one talked with mouth full, etc.

I think it is a kind thing for parents to teach their children how to behave properly when they are at other people's houses and so they will not feel out of place or awkward in fancy situations. And I think this is such a fun way of doing it- turns learning the rules into a special, exciting occasion. One could add all kinds of little touches to make sure that everyone looked forward to these nights- a special dessert, flowers on the table, maybe posting the menu on a board ahead of time, a special activity afterward.

Have you used/ seen any good ideas for teaching manners in a fun way? I'd love to hear about them. I'm especially keen to read about ways of teaching manners as consideration for other people's feelings. It seems like our culture today often treats good manners like they are nothing more than snootiness --when in reality, the foundation of much etiquette is the Golden Rule. It would be really neat to hear about fresh or creative ways that people are finding to show their children the sense and usefulness of good manners.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Counting Book for Toddlers

I don't believe I ever showed you the counting book my mother made for M a while back. Its title "How Many, Many?" is in the spirit of "The Foot Book," (How many, many feet you meet!).

As with this book that I made for M, the goal is to help her understand the concept of counting more than helping her to memorize the names and shapes of numbers. Most baby counting books go up to ten- which is fine, but in order to really understand what it means to count, it seems like a toddler needs lots of practice with counting small numbers of objects (no more than three).

Each page has a picture with one, two, or three of something. The child's responsibility is to count the objects and to lift up the correct number. If she gets it right, there is a smiley face. If she lifts up the wrong number there is nothing there.
If you're wondering where my mother got all of the cute pictures, the answer is that she always keeps her eyes open for possibilities when she browses magazines (Country and Reminiscing magazines are particularly good for this kind of thing). You can purchase blank books for making your own toddler books here).

Upcoming Review: Fisher Price Water Table

Here in Texas, it's starting to show signs of soon being warm enough to splash around in the water outdoors. I remember that when I was little, I looked forward to that season with sooo much anticipation. My mother's rule was that we could play in the sprinklers when the temperature reached 75 degrees, and when it reached 80 we could play in the inflatable pool. You can be sure that we watched the thermometer with diligence so as to be sure not to miss an opportunity (we lived in Michigan, after all, and we had to make the most of every little scrap of summer)

To help melt the winter blues away a bit, CSN will be giving me an opportunity to review an outdoor water toy. (CSN is a family of online stores that is currently promoting, among other things, a diverse line of kids bedding).

The toy I will be reviewing is a Little Tikes Island Adventure Water Table. It looks like a lot of fun- the sort of thing that might really entice little ones to want to play outdoors. Can't wait to try it out and tell you what I think.

I thought too, that on the day that I write the review for the water table, that it would be fun for all of us to share some of our best outdoor water activities/games/toys. I would love to hear your ideas so we can be ready with an arsenal of fun for when the hot weather hits!

Here is a picture of my cousin and I years ago using plastic bags to fling water at each other (we had run out of water balloons at my house and had to improvise!)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pretzel Stick Letters

This is actually an idea for an activity that M came up with herself. One day she was eating pretzel sticks for a snack and exclaimed to me--LOOK, MAMA! It's an A! I looked, and sure enough it was a capital A made out of pretzel sticks.

So the next time we had school we turned it into a structured activity. I would make a letter out of sticks. Her job was to count the number of pretzel sticks in the letter, count out that number of sticks for herself and try to make the letter while looking at mine as a model. (for some letters she needed a lot of help).