How to build community in a socially distanced neighborhood

Kids are heading back to school, sort of, but COVID mitigation strategies mean that even schools that are offering in-person classes might not continue for long. Mask mandates are back, and social distancing is recommended. As quarantines continue and the delta variant sends hospitalizations rising among kids as well as adults, it’s clear that the pandemic is far from over. 

COVID-19 won’t last forever. But with no end currently in sight, it’s time to rethink how we approach social capital and neighborhood relationships. Is it possible to build community in a world where social distancing isn’t a short-term solution, but a long-haul necessity?

Familiar neighborhood connections like carpools, sleepovers, and after-school parties may have to wait, but building relationships is more important than ever. Here are some ideas for how you can continue to strengthen connections with your neighbors, even while we have to stay distanced. 

Hold a neighborhood zoom party  

Neighborhood porch parties may be a thing of the past – for now – but community starts with communication, and the internet makes digital communication easy. At this point, everyone’s an expert at zoom, so why not invite your neighbors for a zoom party? Play games, split into breakout rooms for small group discussions, or hold a contest for the funniest zoom background. 

Start a silly collaborative art project.

Even a simple art project can become a trend that takes off. In one neighborhood, a family started putting googly eyes on random objects throughout the neighborhood and posting pictures on social media, and the trend took off. In another neighborhood, one family posted a mayoral campaign poster for their cat, and other families quickly took up the project, with competing posters urging people to vote for Rover the Dog or Luna the Cat. It’s impossible not to laugh when you see a rock with googly eyes, and silly projects like this make it easy and fun for everyone to participate. 

Plant a community garden.

If you don’t yet have a community garden, there’s never been a better time to start one. If there’s a vacant, unused lot in your neighborhood, reach out to the landowner for permission to start gardening there. Even small plots provide an automatic boundary for social distancing while enabling you and your kids to socialize with neighbors. 

Build a little library. 

A little library is a wooden box in your yard for trading used books. Put books in it that you don’t want, and encourage neighbors to take books they want or bring books they don’t. You can download free plans for building a little library and do a construction project with your kids, or if that sound intimidating, buy a premade kit to put together. 

Make a chalk obstacle course.

Get your kids – and the rest of the neighborhood kids – moving and jumping with a sidewalk chalk obstacle course. Use different colored chalk to design different activities such as a maze to walk through, a dance challenge, or a classic hopscotch path. Have older kids design and draw obstacles for younger ones. To get the whole neighborhood involved, draw your course on a public sidewalk that’s used frequently so everyone can enjoy. 

Organize a car parade. 

Car parades are a great COVID-safe activity, since each family in the parade is essentially inside their own “bubble” while in their car. Although it takes more time to set up than the other activities, the fun is worth the effort! Reach out to neighbors to recruit families who want to participate in the parade, and choose a theme for car decorations. Then spread the word to everyone about the date and time, and encourage families who are watching to gather at the end of their driveways. If someone in your neighborhood has a speaker, you can put it in a truck at the front of the parade to provide music.  

Hold a screen on the green

Although the delta variant is more contagious than earlier versions of COVID-19, most experts agree that outdoor gatherings are still relatively safe when combined with social distancing. All you need for a neighborhood screen on the green is a large grassy field, a spot to hang a sheet, and a projector and speaker. Make sure that everyone sits at least six feet apart from other families, and encourage everyone to bring popcorn. Choose a family-friendly movie so everyone can enjoy, and start the show as soon as it’s dark.

Sharing activities together is one of the biggest ways that people build relationships in a neighborhood. While the pandemic has made that more difficult, it’s not impossible. With a little creativity, you can continue to get to know your neighbors and show your kids what community looks like – even in a pandemic.

Making Music with Kids

In schools and childcare centers, teachers use music to support and engage children in the learning process. Research suggests music helps ignite cognition and memory, deepens language learning, and supports both fine and gross motor skills. 

At home, parents can also use music to support their child’s development,  help lower stress, and bring joy. Here are a few ways to incorporate a little music into your everyday routine.

Listen to Music

Add a little background music to your day by dialing into a radio station or creating a playlist and streaming it to a speaker.  Listening to classical music can lower tension and help calm anxiety.  Says Jane Collingswold at PsychCentral, “Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. 

This type of music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.”

For children who need help settling into rest time, a quiet, gentle series of lullabies can set the mood and encourage sleep.  My all-time favorite rest time CD is the Bejing Angelic Choir’s Chinese Lullabies.

Sing Songs

Take a break from the normal routine and enjoy a sing-along. Toddlers delight in circle time, which can include silly songs with lots of body movement.  Some of my favorites are “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”, and “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”.  You can also incorporate singing into other family activities.  Riding in the car? Start a sing-along, complete with hand motions and silly faces

Make Instruments

Take it a step further and add instruments to your family sing-a-long. Create your own family band with instruments made from found objects. From simple storage container shakers to pan flutes and cereal box guitars,  Red Tricycle has put together a collection of 21 instruments you can make from things you have at home.

Have a Dance Party

Once the music is flowing, combine gross motor activity and music through dance. Turn up some rhythmic dance music and get moving. Or enjoy an acapella version of the Hokie Pokie for family fun that will have you all smiling.

Take a Deeper Dive

Have older kids? Help them explore the life and discography of a favorite composer or band. Check out your local library for materials, or search for information on the internet.  Add the composer’s music to a playlist and incorporate it into your family music listening (and dancing!).  You can also choose a period in history and see what you can find out about music and musical instruments of that time period.  Or explore the music of a particular region or country.  Invite your kids to compare the music you find in your explorations to the music your family typically listens to.  How are they different?  What is similar about them? 

Learn to Play an Instrument

For the truly adventurous and dedicated, learning to play an instrument can provide a lifetime of musical enjoyment. It also builds confidence and improves patience.  Says classicfm.com, “Learning to play an instrument stimulates the brain, improving functions like memory and abstract reasoning skills, which are essential for maths and science.”  Learning a musical instrument takes time and commitment, but can bring joy that lasts a lifetime.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Gardening with kids

Gardening is the perfect family activity this summer, with many of us having more time at home together. Growing things together has so many benefits. In addition to the bonding that comes from shared activity, children who participate in growing vegetables eat healthier and are more receptive to trying new foods. Gardening can also help teach children how to relax and calm down. Being outside and tending to growing things increases levels of Vitamin D and helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol. 

You don’t need a big yard to enjoy the benefits of caring for vegetable plants or flowers. Even a patio planter in a sunny corner will work.

A garden gives you the opportunity to engage all the senses – the taste of a tomato fresh off the vine, the smell of rosemary, the sound of bamboo rustling in the breeze, the soft fuzz of a green bean pulled from the bush, and the beauty of a sunflower following the arc of the sun across the sky. 

Gardening teaches responsibility and patience, with visible results when plants are well cared for through regular watering. 

When getting started with gardening together, choose things to grow based on family favorites. For younger children, choose plants that are quick to sprout and easy to harvest. Two of our favorites are sugar snap peas and green string beans. Snap peas like cool weather and plenty of water, so are a perfect first crop in the late Spring. They will need a trellis, which is easy to make with three long poles tied together at the top, tee-pee style, and some twine. Snap peas can be eaten right off the vine – a favorite activity for toddlers and preschoolers. 

It’s not too late to sow some green beans this summer. Green beans come in both bush and pole varieties. Last week we replaced the sugar snap peas in our garden with green beans and expect to start harvesting by the end of August.

Kale and Swiss chard are other easy growers in the Willamette Valley. These, too, can be started now and will continue to grow as summer gives way to autumn. Kale will often overwinter in the Willamette Valley. 

We use lots of kale hidden in blueberry smoothies at our house. We also love it sauteed with some onions and bacon, or pounded raw into some olive oil and Italian seasoning as a salad.

Sunflowers are a fun option for family gardening. Although they require patience through their long growing season, they will provide lots of happy color once they bloom. Harvesting the seeds from the head of the sunflower is a perfect autumn activity. As the weather cools, the harvested seeds can be shared in bird feeders with our feathered friends.

If you are looking for options that come back year after year, consider a strawberry patch or adding a few blueberry bushes along a fence. Both of these perennial fruits are kid-friendly favorites for picking and eating.

Even the youngest toddler will enjoy helping prepare the soil for planting. Small trowels in a raised bed are perfect for this activity. Counting can be practiced as seeds are planted, and older children can practice math skills as they figure out how many seeds will fit in the space you’ve allotted. 

Green bean planting is perfect for this activity, as they are planted one seed at a time, four inches apart. Invite your elementary students to determine how many seeds will fit in your row. They can also help decide how much garden space to devote to each crop. If each plant will produce six string beans at a time, how many plants do we need to be able to pick enough for everyone at dinner?

Watering is a task that is vital to the healthy growth of the vegetable garden. Toddlers love anything that involves water, and will happily water the garden with you. Be sure to provide a watering can that is the right size for your small child. 

The necessity of watering throughout the summer here in the Willamette Valley helps build responsibility and self-confidence. With regular attention and a degree of patience, eventually the fruits of your effort will be ready to pick and taste. Children can take pride in their contribution to the family table.

And if you’ve included flowers in your garden, invite your children to pick enough to make a beautiful bouquet for the dinner table. Bon appetit!

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Fun for the whole family: Backyard Birding

Looking for something fun while staying close to home this summer? The whole family can enjoy backyard birding together with these quick tips. 

1-Make your backyard bird-friendly.  Install a birdbath and hang a bird feeder or two in your yard.  Even better if they are all visible through a window of your house. Be sure to keep them clean and filled. Helping with this task is something even the littlest can do.  Birds will feel safer with bushes, trees, or even a pile of branches nearby to protect them from predators. Be sure to choose a location that your pets don’t frequent. 

2-Find some pictures of birds that live in the area. Books, such as bird guidebooks, are a great place to start to put pictures with the names of the birds that live in your neighborhood. The local library has many wonderful bird books designed especially for children. Online resources can also provide photos and descriptions of local bird species. Start by learning the names of just a few, then head outside and see if you can find them in nearby trees.

3-Learn to identify birds by sound. Bird sounds are classified as calls, which are usually just one or two notes, and songs, which are longer and contain many notes and tones. Birds use calls and songs for different reasons. There are many online resources for hearing the sounds different birds make.  Or you can ask Alexa and Google Assistant to help you learn common bird calls and songs. One of the most distinctive bird sounds is the chickadee, which is abundant in the Willamette Valley. If you already know a few birds by sight, listen to recordings of their calls and songs, then head outside and see if you can hear any of these birds in your backyard. Take a walk through the neighborhood and listen for the bird calls you have learned. When you hear one you know, see if you can locate the bird with your eyes. 

4-Be curious!  When you see a bird, watch what it does.  Can you figure out why it is behaving that way? Which sound is it making – a call or a song?  Can you figure out why?

5-Keep a log.  Keeping a record of the birds you’ve observed can be a fun way to track the different birds that come and go in your neighborhood.  Do you see different birds out and about in the morning? Do you see more or fewer birds in the evening? A log can help you see patterns and make observations about the birds in your neighborhood. Invite your older kids to make the entries in your family’s bird log.  They can even draw a picture of the birds that you see.

6-Play games. There are many games that can be adapted to bird watching. For example, create a bingo grid, with each square containing the name or picture of a common Oregon bird. Use markers (coins, small squares of paper, or even crayon to color in the square) to indicate which birds you see. Find five in a row? Bingo!

7-Expand your viewing with online live streams. Check out some of the many webcams that stream views of bird nests around the country.  For example, check out the Decorah (Iowa) eagles or look in on sea birds at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.  For more options, check out this collection of live stream feeds.

On the go, or close to home, enjoy some bird watching as a sweet addition to your next trip outside.

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

DIY Summer Camp

It’s a strange new “normal” we find ourselves in this summer.  It feels like we’ve been waiting in place since mid-March.  Yet nature continues to move forward.  So while I feel like it’s still the week before Spring Break, the trees all have leaves, the rain is almost done for the season, and the vegetable garden has tiny tomatoes on summer tomato plants.

Every summer activity I had planned for the kids (and the family) has been cancelled, so my summer calendar stretches out as empty as the last three months.  

Disappointed and desperate for something to look forward to, I decided we’d design our own summer camp. I have declared this the summer of “Family Camp” and invited the kids to help me design our own summer camp experience.

In mid-June we had a family meeting to brainstorm things we’d all like to do together this summer and decide on a ‘schedule’ for ‘camp’.  We amassed a long list of things that includes typical summer camp activities, time for reading and quiet time alone, and activities that will take us out of the house and off on an adventure.

At our planning meeting we decided camp would run Tuesday through Friday, for three to four hours of the day. The brainstorming was so successful that I ended the meeting there, before anyone could change their mind about how much incredible fun we were going to have together all summer. (Did I mention my kids are 12, 14, and 17?)

Our first official week of Family Camp arrived, but I had made camping reservations along the Oregon coast.  So we went camping for three days.  It wasn’t the day camp we’d planned, but we had an excellent time together doing something away from the house where we’ve been sequestered since March.

Before the next week started, we had a second planning meeting. This time we got more specific about what we’d do and when we’d do it. We’ll do this at the beginning of each week so that we have a schedule that everyone can look to if they forget what has been planned.

Each of the kids advocated for the activities they wanted to do during the week ahead and we were able to design a week with something for everyone and no complaints. I think we’ve learned some social skills while being home-bound for four months.

So Family Camp begins with bowling in the morning and some Khan Academy in the afternoon.  The following day we are having a friendly Nailed It! baking contest.  (We haven’t decided if it will be a team sport or if we’ll end up with four of the same cakes. I’ll let the group decision making process decide that.)  We’ll bake together in the morning, then decorate and hold a friendly competition after lunch.

Next, we’ll be at home, playing board games and doing some reading.  And on our final day of camp this week we’ll get out and hike.  My oldest did the research to find an easy day hike about an hour away.  We’ll pack a lunch to take with us and then picnic during the 5 mile hike in the Oregon woods.

It will be fun, but from a parenting perspective the most important part of this whole process hasn’t been the activities themselves, really, but the commitment we are making to each other.  To show up.  To have a schedule, with things planned and an agreement that we will do them together. Despite the empty calendar, we now have a plan.

If you’d like to plan your own “Family Camp” this summer, here are some of the things  on our list:

Field Trips: the beach, berry picking, swimming in a lake, overnight camping, hiking

Bowling (we joined the summer league at Highland Bowl)

Playing our violins and keyboard

Learn to play the guitar

Khan Academy 

Reading

Bible Study

Cooking/Baking together

Board games

Tennis

Naps/Quiet time

Make a plan and have fun!Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

6 Fun Do-At-Home Activities

Losing patience with those you’ve been locked up with during these weeks of social distancing? Looking for some new ideas to keep everyone busy while we wait for permission to get out and get social again? Here are some fun things people have been doing – you might find a few new ideas among them!

Sensory walk

Create a fun path to follow along the sidewalk out front. Incorporate hopscotch, spinning, hopping, walking sideways. Stephanie Westbrook created one that incorporates lots of gross motor activity.  You can also add other sensory stimuli – warm water in a dishpan, river rocks, sand, mud.

Getty Masterpiece Challenge

The J Paul Getty Museum is inviting everyone to explore the museum virtually from home. They recently issued a challenge through social media, inviting you to recreate a famous work of art with objects from around your home. We had so much fun!

A picture of Michaelangelo's painting Study of a Mourning Woman is shown beside a picture of a child wrapped in a white sheet, recreating the painting.

For more inspiration check out what others have done with this challenge in their newsletter.

Long-distance gaming

Set up a Zoom or Facetime session with loved ones and play some games together. Any board game that doesn’t require randomly shuffled cards is fair game. Try Yahtzee, Bingo, or Monopoly. Other collaborative activities that can be done over video conferencing include talent shows, trivia contests, and charades. One creative family invited family members to create a 6 slide PowerPoint presentation on any topic and then share them at a family zoom meeting.

Artist for Hire

Have a child that loves to draw? Invite friends and family to commission a drawing. My grandson invited people to request drawings of specific bird species. He draws the requested bird and then mails them to the recipient. He loves sharing his talent and recipients have loved the special ‘snail mail.’

Backyard “Camping”

 If you’ve got a tent stored away in anticipation of summer camping trips, pull it out and set it up in the backyard. Let the kids play in it, do school in it, or just take a break in it. Turn it into a destination – somewhere different to go. It just might help with the monotony of being always at home.

Puppets and Plays

For artistically inclined children, gather a variety of household items (fabric, paper, yarn, the recycling), some glue, tape, and a stapler and invite them to create puppets and invent a puppet play. If you have a large cardboard box, creating the puppet stage can be part of the activity. If not, drape a sheet over the dining table instead.

What have you done for creative fun during this time at home? Share your experience in the comments below.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Social Connections Help Build Strong Families

Just before my first child was born my husband and I moved from New England to the Midwest.  We were young, newly married, and knew no one in our new hometown. All of our friends and family were thousands of miles away and we had a baby coming in a mere three months.

My husband’s new colleagues provided our first group of social connections.  To make new friends, we were intentional about attending church regularly. But it was the Welcome Wagon that really helped us build deep and lasting friendships.  They came with a list of ways to get connected.

Through them, I joined a Moms group (which included a babysitting co-op), we joined a card club and an International Dining group (potluck, a different country’s cuisine each month), and I started attending monthly La Leche League meetings, where I joined other new mothers for regular support after the baby was born.

All of these avenues of connection helped us build strong social connections and gave us a support system at a time when our old support network was very far away.  Our new friends could reassure us when we felt overwhelmed as new parents. They offered advice, entertainment, and babysitting. They helped us feel welcome and cared for in our new community.

Social connections are one of the five protective factors for strong families.  (You can see the other four here.) Friends can lend support when we are overwhelmed or just need a different perspective.  Others who are facing similar challenges can provide a listening ear or childcare assistance while you run to the doctor. When you have emotionally supportive friends, life gets easier – for you and for your children.

Here are some options for making connections with other parents in and around Corvallis:

HOME group. Meets at Northwest Hills Community Church, Tuesdays from 9:15 – 11:15 during the school year.  For moms with children 5 yrs and under. Childcare is provided while moms gather for fellowship and learning.  Emphasis is on equipping moms through gifted speakers, hands-on activities, and building a community of support through friendship.  https://www.helpingourmoms.com/

Osborn Aquatic Center.  Sign up the kiddos for swim lessons!  Parents participate in class with their youngest swimmers.  But as the children progress to independent lessons, parents watch from the bleachers – where they can visit with like-minded parents.

Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.  Activities for children and adults alike offer opportunities for parents to connect with other parents through shared activity.  In addition to the usual story hours and children’s reading clubs, the library also offers events just for adults. Looking for something to do without the kids?  Check out https://cbcpubliclibrary.net/events/adult-events/

Parenting Classes.  Check out The Incredible Years, for parents of preschoolers, or Make Parenting a Pleasure for those with older children.  Learn some new communication strategies and meet new friends in the process.  Many classes are free, with dinner and childcare provided. Details can be found here: https://www.parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting-programs/

Mid-Willamette YMCA. Offers programs for children and adults, such as their monthly Lunch and Learn, which is an opportunity to listen to a speaker while enjoying lunch with other attendees.

Community Events.  Corvallis has a long tradition of holding family-friendly community events –   like Benton County Fair in August, Fall Festival in September, and Downtown trick-or-treat in late October.  For more, visit: https://www.visitcorvallis.com/festivals-events

Other ways to make social connections:

Volunteer – in your children’s school, through a faith-based organization, or with an organization whose mission you support.  Watch for invitations to volunteer on social media, or reach out to an organization directly.

Join a Group – find a group of other adults doing something you love (biking, hiking, reading, knitting).  Attend their regular meetings and build friendships around your common interest. During the summer months parents in Corvallis hold regular meet-ups at community parks.  The kids spend time together while the parents visit with each other.

Reach out – to your family and your friends.  Plan get-togethers, invite them over for coffee or a meal.  Be intentional about building strong relationships with those you already know.

Strengthening your relationships outside your family can provide concrete support when you need it most and will strengthen your family at the same time.

 

Be a Better Parent: Step Away

Taking time away from parenting can make you a better parent.  Sounds ironic, but it’s true. Taking a step away from parenting responsibilities gives body and mind a chance to recharge.  And that time spent focusing on your own needs can improve your parenting.

So much changes when you become a parent.  You still need to eat, sleep, and most likely earn a living.  But when that fragile newborn is placed in your arms they are suddenly the center of your universe.

In those early weeks, our life is on hold as we cocoon with our newborn.  We are wired to attend to their needs. In the middle of the night, they need to eat and so we give up our own need for sleep to meet those needs.   We juggle learning to parent while trying to resume all the other aspects of our life before baby. As we meet their needs for food, sleep, and dry diapers, it is easy to forget to take care of ourselves.

But prioritizing self-care can make you a better parent.  The same sleep, exercise, nutrition, and healthy relationships kids need are just as important for adults.  When we attend to our needs – physical needs for exercise and mental needs for healthy social engagement – we improve our state of mind.  

And being healthy and happy has a direct effect on our parenting.  When we are well-rested and know we have taken care of ourselves, we have the energy and enthusiasm to be our best for our children.

Taking care of ourselves also models well-being for our children.   When our children see that we also do things for ourselves – and with other adults – we teach what taking care of ourselves looks like.   We can help them recognize their needs for quiet or rest, if they see us recognizing and meeting our own needs for those same things. And we help them learn patience, gratitude,  and grace.

If you’ve neglected yourself while caring for your children, you can begin to make a change in your self-care by carving out some time each day just for you.  It doesn’t need to be a lot of time. Some days, it may be minutes you capture between scheduled activities. Other days, a whole afternoon can be scheduled “me” time.

When my big kids were young, I belonged to a babysitting co-op that allowed me and other young mothers to share childcare.  I would earn hours by watching someone else’s children, which could be redeemed by having someone else watch mine. It was a beautiful barter system that allowed us all time for self-care, without incurring the expense of hiring a babysitter.  It gave me an entire afternoon to pursue a hobby, or just sit with a book uninterrupted.

Mindfulness

Taking care of ourselves begins with being aware of how we are feeling, both physically and emotionally. Mindfulness helps us see how different stressors affect us.  It helps us identify those things that help us cope most effectively. Mindfulness can be as simple as pausing for a deep breath. These few seconds can create space for stress hormone regulators to slow the ‘fight or flight’ response caused by triggers in our environment.

Carve out time for yourself

Find moments of time in your day to focus on your own well-being.  In the early weeks of a newborn’s life, new moms are encouraged to sleep when the baby sleeps.  As children grow, we are tempted to do that ‘one more thing’ that needs to be done before we take time for ourselves.  Make it a habit to find time for yourself. Take turns with your partner so that each of you has one night a week to go out and enjoy a class, engage in a hobby, or just be alone or with friends at the library or coffee shop.

Take up (or resume) a hobby – something you do just for you

Having an activity or two that you do just for you gives you space to be you. Doing something you love, that satisfies and excites, gives you something outside of family life.  If that something is a group activity, it has the added benefit of enlarging your circle of support – friends and acquaintances who are there for you. Self-care directed toward group activities can expand  your circle of connection and support life-long learning and growing.

For more ideas on finding ways to care for yourself despite your hectic schedule, check out Ashley Looker’s wonderful list of self-care tips: 20 Little Self-Care Tips at MindBodyGreen.

 

Such Thing as Free Lunch

This week I want to tell you about something that I love.

It is Oregon’s Summer Meals program, and in this time of uncertainty and crisis I believe it’s one of the few things around that’s just purely good.

It might seem like I’m hyperbolizing (or, more likely, just inventing an excuse to use that word in a sentence), but I tell you it’s true. Why, take a gander if you will at the organization’s handsome and generous website, which provides an overview of the service and a tidy history as well as a sweet site locator to find meals around the state.

What do they do? Well, since it was created thanks to an act of Congress (remember those?) exactly 50 years ago, the USDA-funded program simply gives out free meals to children aged 1-18. Some sites also sell meals to adults, and some offer activities and educational opportunities before or after. That’s it.

Why is that magic? The awesomeness is in the details: how many public programs can you think of that don’t ask you to register your kids, or meet eligibility requirements, or sign up for further something-or-other, or commit to anything? Really! You just show up and they feed your kids. The end. No follow up, no stigma around needing the assistance. I think that’s mighty special.

My kids, who eat a lot and are sometimes in need of assistance, have enjoyed free meals in parks and libraries around Linn and Benton Counties. They’re not picky or anything, but they have pronounced the offerings both varied and pleasing. I believe them.

If you have kids, and a finite amount of financial resources, and/or it’s just too cockadoodle hot to make lunch, I suggest you check out the Summer Meals sitch. Here’s some nice pointers from our own Parenting Success Network.

So, what are you waiting for?

Except maybe morning?

 

Like Baby Steps, Only Tinier

“It takes 30 days to form a habit.” It’s always somehow shocking to me when these cliches turn out to be more or less true, as if the truthiness (thank you Stephen Colbert) rubs off in the repetition. But what if it’s backed by science? Turns out the facts are more complicated (AGAIN). Certainly too much so to comfortably aphorise.

So let’s put this another way: “It takes 66 days to form a habit. Or broadly, 18 to 254.” Doesn’t trip off the tongue, does it?

Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t bother to do this research before I started forming my new exercise habit. Because I was going by the 30 day thing.

Let me back up a little bit. I just turned 45 and I was thinking about, like, mortality, and things. In my parent-mind, I was thinking about how nice it would be to still be around when all my kids were doing grownup things and thinking about their mortality, and things.

Related to that thought was the one about how well I’ve modeled literacy and learning for my kids at the expense of other things like movement, sport (in the phenomenological sense), and exercise. Sure, we like to take hikes and go for walks, but that’s more about being in nature. And they do love to swim. So. But I have not prioritized those things, and I want to turn that around.

My brilliant wife is right on board, and has instituted a morning walking/jogging regimen for the girls, supplemented by yoga and frequent trips to the pool. It’s going…okay. And by okay, I mean that about half the kids are into it on any given day. Granted, it hasn’t been 30 days, much less 254.

As in all things parental, I had to start with me (we fill our own cup so that we can yada yada). As much as I cherished my morning ritual of making coffee and reading on the couch with a pointy cat on my lap, I knew I had to get moving. My aforementioned wife–the brilliant one–got me some workout clothes for Christmas (I HAVE NEVER OWNED workout clothes). I visualized myself waking up, suiting up, and heading out for an early morning jog, frost, rain and snails be darned (really, tried to be careful of the snails though).

I kept visualizing it every day as I made my coffee and sat down on the couch with coffee and a pointy cat, trying not to look in the direction of my workout clothes, which were balled up in a corner.

Finally I tried another way. Less ambitious, more…tiny. In this case, doing some research would have been helpful because I would have found something like this.

What I did was this: I got a gym bag. I put my workout clothes inside. I left the bag on the dining table when I went to bed. When I got up in the morning, I saw it there, taunting me like Mickey.

After a few days, I opened the bag and put the clothes on. And once I had done that, it just seemed silly not to go outside.

And the rest is…ongoing. Every morning, I put on the clothes and head out for a brisk walk. When I return, in 20-30 minutes, I feel awake and ready for the day. And also ready to do things like bend over and walk up stairs without wheezing.

My kids have noticed all these things. After (insert number of days here), it becomes just something that is done in our family.

Sometimes there are advantages to kids watching everything we do.