Archive for 'holidays'

Comfort and Joy? Make it Happen.

Comfort and joy! That’s the goal remember? It’s in the songs. It’s in the air. It’s in the display case at the department store even! So how do you find it this time of year when there is so much pressure to make it all perfect?

While I make no guarantees about perfection, I offer you this simple exercise for dialing in a little bit more of that joy we all desire. Ready?

Grab a pen and paper, have a seat and take a big, deep breath.

  1. Think of your ideal holiday moment. Not the entire holiday but one particular moment. Maybe it was when you were a kid. Maybe it was last year. Reflect on that moment only and write a brief synopsis.
  2. Now, break it down. In bullet points write down, what were the ELEMENTS involved? What was the FEELING you had?
  3. Without recreating the exact scene, write down a way you could bring some of those elements and those feelings into your present-day holiday. That’s it!

Are you feeling it? I hope so! I know this exercise works wonders for me as a great way of getting connected to the feelings I want. And remember the point of all this? Comfort and joy. Bring it on!

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Every year I make my grandmother’s cranberry relish. It’s easy, it’s delicious and it’s always a big hit at gatherings. The recipe is simple:

  • 1 bag of cranberries
  • 1 whole orange (peel included)
  • sugar to taste (about 1/2 cup)
  • Blend in food processor. Done.

I told my sister that I loved it for it’s taste and it’s simplicity. She was surprised that I found it so easy. “It’s the cooking part that takes the longest,” she said.

“The cooking part?”

Apparently my grandmother used to cook it somehow. But I never knew that and so skipped that step altogether. Which was a good thing for me because I think if I had to cook it, it wouldn’t be a prt of my tradition and I wouldn’t have thought of her every time I did.

Now when I make it I think of my grandmother AND my sister. It connects us. And I am reminded about the importance of this amazing season. It’s not something to get through. It’s not something that should make you feel stressed and beholden. It should FEEL right.  You can borrow from tradition and mix it with your own ingredients. You can make up new stuff altogether. You can do it in a way that honors the past and celebrates the now. And find what works best for you and your family.

So as we kick off this big holiday season, let’s not fret about what we SHOULD be doing. Or how it HAS to be done. Instead let’s keep our eyes on the prize which is the gathering, the celebrating, the appreciating and the connecting. Oh, and the fantastic feasts!!!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

 

 

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I’m Dreaming of an Ideal Christmas

To get yourself in the right mode and mood this holiday, I propose a little writing exercise. I also suggest pen on paper but feel free to do it on your screen if you like. Just that sometimes pen on paper brings you to a different place. For each of these set the timer for 7 minutes. Keep your pen or keyboard moving the whole time. Ok. You ready?

1. The kids are home for holiday break. You’re off from work. The shopping is done and you’re all just home. With the timer going, write out your dream day At home with your kids.

2. It’s Christmas Day. The presents are opened. Everyone’s home. Describe the perfect scenario – remember to write about the feeling.

3. Now, as you look back on what you wrote, what are some things you can do now to help set up the ideal? Are there certain gifts you can give to help create the scene? For example, if you picture all of you working together, perhaps new cookie cutters in each stocking? Or a big puzzle for the whole family. Or a new sketchpad and pencils for the family. If you picture yourself sitting in front of the fire or taking a family walk, are there certain tasks you can tend to ahead of time so that you can be as present as you want? Whatever you envisioned in your ideal scenario, find at least three things to help you get there. And if you can’t get there this year exactly as you want, how can you create the feeling where you are right now? And what can you do to set the wheels in motion for next year?

Only by knowing what we really want, can we even begin to get there.

And if you have any revelations or aha’s from this exercise, feel free to share in the comments.

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Oh yes, it’s that time of year again when we are bombarded with messages that we’d better get shopping if we want to do things right and that unless you walk in with perfect gift in hand, you are doing something wrong. And believe me, the companies spreading those messages are spending WAY more than you are to make you think that you need to spend WAY more than you are. Not that spending and buying things for loved ones is a bad thing, but spending and buying things for loved ones just because you think you have no choice, that’s where we can draw a new line for ourselves.

And if you don’t believe me, check out the overloaded men’s sweater and pajama aisles at the thrift store. Not only do most people not need it? Most people don’t even want it.

So how can we make this season of giving and sharing more of about the connection and less about the obligation? (Other than sending everyone you know a copy of my book that is!) How can we give without the dictate of the marketers? And how can we make it more fun and more meaningful than walking through the masses in the mall with a check list in our hands?

  1. Leave a comment here about one of your favorite family traditions for a chance to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of my book. It can be mailed to you or mailed to a lucky person on your gift list within the contiguous United States.
  2. Talk to your people about doing things differently. Especially your adult people. Oftentimes the permission to do things differently will be welcomed and celebrated. If not at first, then eventually. Then before you know it, it just becomes how you do it.
  3. Pick names. Not a new idea but one many people tend to forget about. If you’re gathering with a variety of adult family members, have everyone choose just one name. How much fun it is to think of one super thoughtful gift rather than scurrying to get something for everyone.
  4. For your children, think of the feeling you want on Christmas Day. Do you want a creative day at home? Or an outdoor exploring day? Or maybe a snuggly day around the kitchen table? Think of gifts that will help you create the feeling you want. Paint sets, building blocks, magnifying glasses and field guides or a 1000 piece puzzle that you can leave out over the holidays for everyone to work on together.
  5. Give experiences rather than things. Coupons for an art workshop or a day together or a movie or a walk or tickets to a show or an ice rink or whatever! The possibilities are literally endless. And if you need a “thing” to wrap up, make it something pertaining to the activity.
  6. Do it white elephant style. This doesn’t always work out for kids as there can be some sadness if someone takes your gift away, but for adults it can be super fun.
  7. Create fun parameters for gift giving. Make it a requirement that the gift be second hand, regifted, within a certain price limit, consumable, edible, handmade, kitchen based, whatever works for you. The parameters actually can help people get creative.
  8. Give your loved ones a list of all the things you appreciate about them. Make it big. How about 100 points of appreciation? Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!
  9. Forget gift giving all together and decide instead to do a collection for other people. Maybe collecting socks for homeless people or blankets for a shelter or canned goods for a food pantry. Then maybe even make the delivery of such items a part of your celebration.
  10. For family and friends far away, leave out mailing boxes for each household in the weeks before Christmas. Let each person put things in that they find, love, make, buy, and create. Things like drawings from the kids, handmade notecards, love notes, baked goods, regift items. By leaving them out for a while, family and friends far away will become a part of your daily life. When they are full, tape them up and send them on your way full of the love of the whole season.
  11. Remember that it’s a season not a day. Celebrate all season long with good deeds and little presents when you think of people and notes sent off to those far away. And free yourself from the panic of getting things done by a certain time and day. Just relax. Enjoy.
  12. And remember the idea behind gift giving is to include a little bit of love and gratitude in everything you give. If not, then what’s the point?
  13. Remember that there are no rules. You can do things your way, or a new way, or a way that has never been done before. Perhaps it’ll become tradition. Or perhaps the tradition will be that every year you try something new.
Enjoy! Keep the home fires burning. Have fun. Love. Revel. Find the goodness. Celebrate! Inspire. And truly feel the joy of giving and receiving too.

 

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I left the house the other night in a bit of a snit and tired. Tired of feeling like a servant. Tired of having to ask people so many times to please empty-your-lunchbox-put-away-your-backpack-get-your-dirty-socks-off-the-floor-put-your-papers-in-the-recycling-clean-up-after-yourself-and-don’t-walk-away-from-the-table-until-it’s-cleared and on and on I could go and actually did.

So I left,  just around bedtime, leaving my husband to tend to the nest, and the teens to tend to their own business while I ran to my friend Carrie’s to ostensibly “throw a load of laundry in the dryer.” Which sounds like a euphemism but it isn’t, because we are currently dryer-less and we did need socks for the morning.

At Carrie’s house, which is right down the street, everything is lovely and there is no yelling. She is a minimalist and her house is always tidy and she barely even wears socks  so the odds of seeing one on the floor or tucked in a couch cushion sort of equals the odds of winning the Powerball.

We sat for a while and I talked myself off the proverbial cliff while the clothes dried. When they were finished we sat a while longer and  I folded laundry on her (modern, white) couch. And as I held each piece up for folding, each one revealed a small story to tell and there was strange power in this simple act of folding. An act I  had performed hundreds upon hundreds of times before. But never with such a willing witness.

And as I pulled each item out – the tiny black boxer briefs of the 6 year old and the favorite t-shirt of the teen and the funny little shorts of the 10 year old that she had worn for YEARS because  her diminutive frame gets longer but never wider. Or her skinny jeans. Her ridiculously sweet and innocent skinny jeans that seemed so impossibly skinny. Garment by garment I  reflected on each one’s  place in our life or the fact that this particular garment now worn by the youngest had been worn by all of his siblings before him. And little did I know that it would be with us for so long. Or why I kept this scarf of mine, so threadbare,  because it used to belong to my sister Alma. Or how this shirt of my husband’s was by far his favorite and had actually been a gift from my mom when the other identical favorite shirt, also from my mom, had died a worn-out death. And how I loved how he looked and felt when he wore it.

It became sort of ridiculous how sentimental this load of laundry was becoming. And how each little piece and each story told, opened up my heart to the love I felt for all of them. And how looking at it all reminded me how impossibly little they still were. And how sometimes, because it seems like they’ve been here so long, I forget their innocence. And it reminded me too that we all need forgiving on occasion.

I went deep and by now I was actually crying – partly from relief that my angst was over. And partly from the absurdity of it all. And I was laughing. And thanking my lucky stars for this witness on my mothering path. And the fact that I have so many amazing, reflective, thoughtful caring witnesses.

I came out the other side of this simple task more in love, more satisfied and more understanding of them and myself than I ever had been before. And I knew I could carry that feeling with me into the next day. And the next and the next after that. And when I ran low on those feelings, I could get a witness to it all, to the mundane and the monotony, and the wonder of motherhood. I could invite someone over to watch me sweep. Or meet up with friends at the park. Or call someone just to talk myself through it. I could connect with my people and connect with my heart in the process.

So find your people, find your partner, find your friends and yell out from the rooftops this Mother’s Day…   “CAN I GET A WITNESS????!!!!!”

 

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Yesterday on various social media and in myriad conversations I had, there were a lot of folks, (moms mostly) feeling guilty about the way they were approaching this sweet holiday with their kids. There seemed to be a lot of pressure to perform – to make handmade valentines, to bring healthy AND pretty snacks to classroom parties and to generally have their life looking all Pinterest ready.

In our house we did make cards because we LOVE making cards. Our whole family loves it and we have lots of materials always at the ready. We leave stuff out on the dining room table for days on end in various states: string, paper, rubber stamps, glue of all shades of food dye, hole punches and scissors for everyone at the ready. We use various reclaimed/recycled/found/ephemera/ items. Like this year we had a box of flash cards that we found in the recycling bin at school at the end of the year.

How we do it isn’t better than how anyone else does it. It’s just what we like to do. It works for us. And we find lots of joy and family connection in the process.

What we brought to the classroom party? A one pound bag of mini pretzels. Because that also works for us.

And this is really the whole message of Slow Family: in order to make it work, we have to make it work for us as a family. If it brings more connection in the process, DO IT. If it doesn’t, find the thing that does.

We can’t all bring/create/do/have/assemble/show up/be the same way  as parents so let’s stop comparing.

And next time you see someone walking in with a giant tray of beautiful cupcakes? Don’t judge or feel judged. Rather know that must work for them.

And next time you see someone walking in empty handed? Know that must work for them.

Then take a look at what you’re bringing to the table and appreciate that too. WHATEVER IT IS.

My mom (the real founder of Slow Family Living) had a saying, that we all do what we can according to our state in life. Believe it. Live it.

Bring what you can. And do what works to bring you the most joy and connection you can possibly have.

And feel the love.

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In the words of They Might be Giants, “time is marching on and time is still marching on…”

This time of year time feels a little bit sped up with all the gatherings and events and parties and to-do lists and travel plans and whoa! Wait a minute! All of a sudden we’re freaking out with all that’s on our mind/calendar/list/plate! You know the feeling? Well chill because here are 8 ways to gain more time without actual time travel. Seriously.

1. Take a deep breath. It really is the first step in calming yourself down when your mind is swirling about. Perhaps you’re saying, “But I don’t have time to take a deep breath gosh darnit!” And I’m saying really, you do. And if you do, you might actually feel time expand a tiny bit. And if you take a few deep breaths, you might feel it expand even more. So pause what you’re doing. Whatever it is. And for a minute or two, just concentrate on breathing. You’ll oxygenate your body and mind and give yourself a chance to approach things more calmly which will in fact feel like time expanding. No matter where you are, pause and take a deep breath or a few. Really intentional, big, deep breaths.

2. Get out of your head. Rather than letting all the things you have to do swirl about in your head uncontrollably and continuously, make a list. The list frees your brain from overwhelm and puts all the things you need to do in front of you where you can see them, approach them and deal with them. One. By. One. So you can slowly get them all done. Put your list on paper or on your phone or wherever it will be most helpful. The beauty of the paper list vs. the electronic list is that you get the satisfaction of crossing things out with a very animated, intentional swipe of your pen. And once they’re crossed off you can see just how much you’ve done. And when you’ve got the list in full action, you’ll see that many of the things that swirl so furiously in your head, might only take minutes to accomplish and don’t need to occupy so much mental energy.

3. Cross something off. I don’t mean cross it off because it’s done. I mean cross it off as in don’t do it. Surely there’s one thing on your list that doesn’t really NEED to get done. Maybe it’s an event that you really aren’t OBLIGATED to attend. Or maybe it’s an activity that you realize you don’t really need to do. Whatever it is, on almost everyone’s list, there is something that can be deleted. Or at least delayed until another time when you have more time.

4. Combine efforts. There are different ways you can approach this combination of efforts. Try to schedule things  so that all your activities fall back to back on the same day – making for a busy day yes but also leaving other days of the week open for you to feel more spacious. If you’re meeting someone for coffee one morning, segue immediately into the next without leaving the space. If you’re volunteering at school or elsewhere in the community, schedule it so that another errand or task is done immediately afterward. This not only blocks your time nicely but also gives definitive end times to each activity. You can also block things by time of day, scheduling all your extra activities in a certain time frame each morning leaving the rest of the day free for your own personal or work related efforts. On the days that are to be for your projects only, put it on the calendar with the same importance as the meetings. Write it down in order to protect that time from the intrusion of other things that might be presented.

5. Schedule less. If you’re feeling this overwhelm often, perhaps you ought to think about trying to do less. If it’s making you stressed or anxious, then maybe it really is too much. Consider eliminating things not just for one time but for the longer term. Maybe you’re on too many committees or in too many groups. Whatever it is, they will be there when you’re ready but if it’s too much, you’re not serving anyone by overextending yourself.

6. Delegate. Surely you don’t need to do everything yourself. Got a friend, co-worker or family member who might pick up some of the slack? Ask your partner to take on one of your tasks. Or your kids to chip in a little more with things. Or your parents or friends to babysit so you can get something done. Try doing things co-operatively such as child care or toy shopping or post office or whatever is on your list. No point in all of us doing all of it. Share, trade, barter, bargain. Whatever you can do to make things feel more efficient and fun.

7. Get more sleep. Sure it seems funny to think of sleeping more as giving you more time but seriously, when you are well-rested you’re a much more efficient machine. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Leave something undone that night. If you’re a parent, you most likely won’t ever get it ALL done, so leave some of it undone in the name of a good night’s rest. SO worth it. And truly, you’ll feel stronger, more capable, more efficient and more joyful too so you can get more done more joyfully.

8. Lower your standards. At least temporarily. And think about what really matters. Got company coming and you’re trying to get the baseboards shiny before they arrive? Or make the perfect shrimp dish for your cocktail party? Before you freak out or stress out or wither, ask yourself if what you’re stressing about is worth it. Nobody’s going to notice your baseboards. And if they do, do you really care? And don’t you think your friends and family are coming to be with you and not coming to see a perfectly laid out Martha Stewart style spread? Sure, if you can do it all without stress or worry go for it, but if it’s causing you to go into full on overload, is it really worth it? That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

Three of the recurring themes of this season are peace, love and joy so it says on every card we’ve received. Be sure you set yourself up for a lot of both. Because really, isn’t that the whole point of us being here on this earth anyway? I think so. This time of year and always.

If you want to make your holiday season slow down to just the tempo you like, check out the Create your Slow Holiday workbook. It’ll totally get you exactly where you want to be.

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This time of year things can really amp up a bit – with social events and sing-alongs and school pageants and classroom projects and gift giving and decorating and well, you get the idea; it’s busy right now. Even if it’s good busy, (which I hope for all of you that it is!) it’s still busy and definitely takes some serious intention. And planning. And ideas! For how to keep things feeling the way you want them to feel.

While I do love the giving spirit that is prevalent this time of year, I don’t love the feeling of obligatory getting that seems to want to dominate. Being aware of that is our first step towards making it work for us. When we know what we don’t want, it’s easier to focus in on what we do want. And from that knowing, and from the web, and from trial and error over the years, we came to this…5 ways we make gift giving work in our house…

  1. Experience. Rather than a thing, we  focus on an idea. A special class or outing, a trip to the movies, a book of coupons for visits to the bakery or the ice cream shop or a one-on-one date to the cafe or some other such outing where the prize is the process.
  2. Consumables. Perhaps this comes from having a big family now and coming from a big family, but having your very own box of protein bars or a special treat or your own box of Mac and Cheese or some other food that we would never have in house otherwise?  That you can eat when you want and that you don’t have to share if you don’t want to but you can if you want? That’s heaven for a kid in a house with 5 other people. You can eat if fast, or make it last. It’s up to you and you are in charge of that little food domain.
  3. Want/Need/Wear/Read I saw this on the Simple Kids blog and I don’t know whether they made it up or whether they got the idea from someone else but I think it’s brilliant. I love the parameters it sets and I love the simplicity of it and the fact that it’s all sort of covered – desires are met, needs are met, a fun garment can be purchased that might not be otherwise, and a book to read, which provides an instantaneous activity! It all takes care of that feeling many of us parents get when we put the gifts out and think, “Oh my! That’s not enough!”
  4. Presence. It sounds cliche I know, but truly, what if accompanying the presents there was also presence. Phones would be turned off, screens could be pushed away, distractions could be eliminated or at least minimized which is sometimes all you can do with this many people in a house, and we could greet our children with our full present selves. We could play the games they want to play, and engage in a way that felt like a gift in itself. Something I know we can’t always do with all that needs to be done in a day, but on this day, in this season, that seems like it could really bring about the feeling we’re all truly seeking.
  5. Group gift that is also an activity. Something like a board game for the family or a big giant puzzle or an art supply of some beautiful variety that is given to the group for the group and that instantly inspires some fun family time.

In our house we’re going for the feeling of satisfaction and we are well aware that feeling comes not from a thing but from our approach. (and quite often this time of year we need to remind ourselves of that!!) It is not about getting more, but about making sure that what we bring in are the things that bring us more of the feelings we want.

What are some ways you make it work in your house? What’s your favorite gift to give? Or get? What’s the feeling you’re going for this holiday season? And how do you make sure you get there?

If you want a quick and easy way to figure out how to get more of what you DO want this holiday, check out our Slow Family Holiday workbook. 

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Think the holidays are still a long way off? I know it’s still 80+ degrees here in Austin but I don’t think it’s too early to start pondering how you want your holidays to go. Not if you want to make some changes to the way it’s always been done. Not if you want to set yourself up for a thoughtful, happy holiday time. I talked to Vicky and Jen about this for their amazing show What Really Matters and they put together a beautiful little podcast on Creating Your Slow Holiday full of great ideas for taking out the hectic and adding in a little more love and joy. Listen to it! And then while you’re there listen to the show they did with Carrie a while back about slowing things down in general. That was chock full of good ideas.

And if you want to dive in a bit into your own ideas for Slow Holidays, there is an ebook. And even a teleclass that is on the books for Thursday November 29th starting at 7:30pm central time. We’ll go over the ebook and get to the source of how you want your holidays to feel, look, go. This year and all the years that follow.

You can make it how you want it. Truly.

 

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How to Make a Costume

The following post was written in 2009. Since then I’ve learned a few things about myself, about ego, about being all-one, and about making sure that the spirit of Halloween is imagination and fun rather than perfection and competition. (not that perfection has ever been a part of my world…) So read this. Take from it what you like. I’ll still never buy a new costume but I suppose if my kids wanted to spend their own money on one, I’d allow it. Fortunately that issue hasn’t come up for us anymore and my kids are more than happy to create from thrift, from scraps, from random pieces in our house and from the very depths of their imaginations. There’s that word again. My favorite.

This story originally ran in my Just A Minute blog in 2009. I’m sharing it again at the request of a few…

October 30, 2009…This morning, the day before Halloween, my little first grade monkey was excitedly putting on her ears, pulling up her pants with tail affixed, and straightening out her furry belly. All these pieces we had created last night by the way when she reminded me that all the kids would be wearing their costumes to school. All this time by the way I was thinking I had all morning Saturday to get said pieces ready for Saturday afternoon. Nonetheless we did have a really good time making the pieces last night as she determined which brown fabrics would be appropriate and desirable for her said monkey costume. At bedtime she was psyched.

At face makeup time, less so. She started getting nervous and I could feel it in her twitching face as she continuously wrestled away from my face-paint clutches to catch a glimpse of herself in the mirror.

Then the exclamation followed by the tears, “I don’t even LOOK like a monkey! Nobody will know what I am! EVERYONE else will have a store bought costume!!!”

We happen to go to a very creative public school, or at least a public school filled with creative parents, teachers and kids. I was 99% certain that the handmade costumes would outnumber the store boughts but there was no convincing her of that.

I went on about using our own ideas, skills, creativity, brains as opposed to buying something made with someone else’s ideas, skills, creativity, brains. I pontificated about Halloween being a day for creative expression, costumes being renderings not exact copies. What she heard was “blah, blah, blah, no way in hell am I ever gonna buy a costume.”

By the time she arrived at school we were already late, she was already flustered and nervous and, because she was the last one to arrive she got flocked. Cries of “what are you?” went up from the crowd. The tears, which had been resting just under her lids, now flowed and she ran out of the room and into the van. (this part I was told as it was actually my husband dropping her off, I was still at home drinking my coffee.)

As she walked back into the house she cried out, “nobody knew what I was, everyone else had a good store costume, I’m NOT GOING TO SCHOOL!!!”

I let her cry, felt the pain in my own heart and for just a minute I was 7 and running out of my first grade classroom. I hugged her and she melted into me. She sniffed the final cry and wiped away the last tears which smudged her face completely. I took her into the bathroom and wiped off her face with a warm washcloth and held her up to the mirror.

“Look at those ears. Look at that tail. Look at that furry belly. What are you?” I asked.

“A monkey. But nobody knew.”

We talked about how everyone was excited, she was the last one in, she missed them doing it to everyone else. We talked more about store bought, her creative self, how much fun we had making the costume last night. I told her over and over, “Look at you. YOU made that costume!” She smiled a little monkey smile and said she wanted to go back.

In solidarity I put on some cat ears, drew myself some whiskers and drove her back to school. We arrived just as the class was lining up to walk to the senior center to share their costumes and a few songs.

The kids gathered round. All of them stating how much they LOVED her monkey costume. (apparently a little chat had ensued upon her initial departure)

I looked around and saw that at least half of the costumes were indeed handmade or mindfully assembled with random pieces. (my preferred style for sure!) And, if you bought your costume, no offense intended, but those handmade costumes really did shine brighter than the store boughts. They were filled with love and creativity and time together and conversation and laughing, and maybe even a few screams and cries but what art doesn’t come with struggle? (I also saw that store bought didn’t necessarily mean instant recognition but that was a lesson I’m not sure my child could see just yet.)

I will continue my quest to have my children see that a handmade or assemblage costume is the way to go for as long as I live. I want them to see, feel, know that Halloween is about having fun and dressing up in our own version of something. I want them to feel too that our own creativity is more fun and more valuable than anything we could ever buy. And I want them to understand that everything that is on the store shelves now started out as an idea in someone’s brain. Every Batman, Power Ranger, every cartoon, movie, story, drawing, show. All of them came from someone’s brilliant self. Somewhere, sometime, somehow.

The lesson may not be realized fully by the first grade monkey but I am of the firm belief that it will sink in drip by drip.

 

 

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