Written on December 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by Family Circle
Written by Rachel Macy Stafford
From a very young age, my older daughter, Natalie, has been a gift giver. Like most children’s, her offerings consisted of items that adults wouldn’t ordinarily classify as gifts. Broken seashells, traumatized frogs, dying weeds and misshapen rocks were often presented in small, dirt-laden hands beneath a wide smile. In the past two years Natalie’s gift-giving practices have moved up a notch. Gifts are no longer found in nature; they are found in our home.
Yes, it’s re-gifting at its best—wrapping barely used items and presenting them with great love.
Although highly practical and earth-friendly, this gift-giving practice brought to mind words like “tacky” and “cheap.” But for some reason, I had enough sense to stand aside and let my child give as her heart dictated.
Last Christmas Eve, Natalie spent hours wrapping barely used bottles of lotion, tiny hotel shampoos and gently used books. She then declared she wanted to distribute the colorful packages to homeless people in the downtown area. Her very first recipient was a frail, elderly woman with sad eyes who clutched her life’s possessions in a ripped trash bag. It wasn’t until I watched this woman’s face completely transform at the mere sight of my pint-size gift-bearer that I got over myself.
Shortly thereafter, Natalie thought it would be nice to create a care package for a family in India with whom we’d connected through Operation Christmas Child. On top of the new pajamas, packaged toothbrushes and pristine white socks, she placed two hairbrushes that she and her little sister had used for almost a month. Natalie was adamant that the brushes must be included. It wasn’t until we received a thank-you note with this picture that I vowed I would never cringe at her gift-giving practices again.
In fact, when the mood strikes and a present is needed, I thoroughly enjoy watching Natalie search the bottom of her messy closet for the ideal gift. I am now quite certain there is something miraculous in the way my daughter gives—in the way all children give.
Children remind us on a daily basis that our most precious gift is when we stop in the midst of our busy lives and give a piece of ourselves—our undivided attention, a lingering embrace, a word of encouragement, snuggles in bed, one-on-one time or a helping hand. This season, consider giving like children do. Rather than spending hours at the mall shopping for the “perfect” gift, remember that what your loved ones want most this year is you.
If I had to give a name to such heartfelt gift giving, I would call it “hands-free”—letting go in order to give the gift that really matters. And you can’t put a price on it.
Just ask a child.
Join Rachel on her journey to let go of distraction, perfection and societal pressure to grasp what really matters by visiting www.handsfreemama.com or “The Hands Free Revolution” on Facebook. Rachel’s book, Hands Free Mama, is currently available for pre-order and hits shelves on January 7.
Written on December 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm , by Danielle Hester
Air travel during the holiday season can be stressful—long lines at check-in, delayed flights, overcrowded planes … just thinking about it puts a damper on my holiday spirit.
But the video above reminds me just how much the holiday season brings out the best in everyone, even airlines.
The airline sets up virtual kiosks at Hamilton and Toronto international airports for two Calgary-bound flights. Passengers scan their boarding pass, prompting a video of a WestJet Santa asking what passengers want for the holidays. Unbeknownst to passengers, there are more than 150 volunteers recording their requests who then run out to buy, wrap and deliver all the presents to the airport upon the flight’s arrival. Passengers are surprised when wrapped boxes with name tags fall out of the luggage carousel.
It gets better. According to the airline, once the “Christmas Miracle” video hits 200,000 views, the company will give out free flights to the Ronald McDonald Charities for families in need. The viral video has already surpassed this goal.
It’s wonderful to see Christmas wishes come true, big and small.
Written on December 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm , by Family Circle
Written by Glennon Doyle Melton
All I want for Christmas is for my kids to be happy, but too often I forget that the kind of happiness I can buy them at the mall doesn’t last. That kind is superficial and fleeting, and we shouldn’t teach our kids to rely on it. Because if our kids learn that joy comes from things they can write on a list, things they don’t already have, any sort of things, they will become the kind of adults who believe that joy is elusive—outside of themselves, something that only materially blessed people have—which we know is simply not true. Joy is within the grasp of each and every one of us. Joy is looking around at what we already have and counting it all as miraculous. The only lasting joy is gratitude.
This year, I’m going to spend some energy teaching my kids about lasting joy. A good holiday season is not about making lists of stuff we wish we had. It’s about making lists of what we already have and love. We just started a Holiday Gratitude Journal with our kids. Every night we sit together and write down three things each of us is grateful for. That’s my kind of list! I share more about how our family learned to make room for gratitude in the December issue of Family Circle.
Written on November 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm , by Family Circle
Written by Jm Randolph
My husband was out of town for nearly half of 2012. I refer to that time as my Metamorphosis, only instead of waking up as a cockroach, I woke up the sole adult in a house with five stepkids. At Thanksgiving we took our first family holiday road trip: 700 miles to my mother’s house in Indianapolis, where my husband would meet us from Chicago.
I’ve driven across the country alone more than once. For five years as a touring stagehand, I lived in hotel rooms and out of suitcases; I know how to pack and move…myself, that is. Family road trips are a different beast, and my husband was gone.
My husband makes things happen; he’s like Atz Kilcher, MacGyver and Chuck Norris all rolled into one. I’m Lucille Ball, Oscar Madison and Peg Bundy, without the comedy.
As a stepparent, I constantly second-guess my abilities. My first week on the job, I let a 6-year-old go on an apple-picking trip on a 39-degree day without even realizing she wasn’t wearing a long-sleeve shirt, let alone a coat, until she came home with a note from her teacher.
So I prepped for this trip like a mother.
I laid out the minivan by feel: first-aid kit, water, tissues, hand sanitizer, trash bags, chocolate, flashlight, multi-tool and the next six CDs to go in the changer were all within arm’s reach. Each kid’s station was similarly stocked. We had enough food to last us a week in case we got stranded in a blizzard.
Bringing along Jack and Casey, our puggles, was not part of the plan.
Jack spontaneously developed kennel cough the night before his vaccination appointment. He couldn’t be vaccinated while sick, which completely changed the timing for boarding. All of a sudden I had to find a place to board the dogs in Indiana. They were road-tripping with us.
I let this news slip to one kid. Word spread, and this conversation happened five times:
Kid: The dogs are coming over 700 miles in the car with us?
Kid: Our dogs? The badly behaved ones that bark and eat everything in sight and throw up?
Kid: Are you crazy?
I definitely didn’t tell my mother. She found out from someone’s Facebook status and called me right away for reassurance that they had a place to stay. My mother’s hospitality is legendary and she easily accommodates all of us on a moment’s notice, but the puggles were not invited. They could be counted on to terrorize her cats and elderly toy poodle; if left in the garage unattended they would create a Slip ’N Slide with her Turtle Wax and eat the tread off her tires.
By 5:15 a.m. the day of departure, all eight of us were packed into the minivan. By 5:16, the dogs began crying and did not stop for the next four hours. They jockeyed for position, attempting to both be on the same lap at the same time. When that didn’t work out, they were content to displace the owner of said lap, Kid No. 4. Before this trip, she was the puggles’ biggest fan. Now she was ready to leave them at the next rest stop. I looked back and saw Nos. 4 and 5 mushed up together while Jack and Casey stretched out comfortably across two-thirds of the seat eating the last of someone’s sandwich. I’m pretty sure Casey was asking for more mayo.
We made decent time, considering, but it wasn’t enough. I was panicking when I called my sister.
Me: The boarding place closes in 15 minutes and I’m still an hour outside of town and Mom’s going to—
Beth: Come to my house. Don’t tell Mom!
Some things never change.
Even though two kids had to stay with Beth to watch our dogs (who never settled down all night and also tried to kill my sister’s dog), it worked out. We got Jack and Casey boarded the next day, and Beth and I demonstrated gratitude in action for my kids: the lesson that siblings are always there for each other and they’ll go to any lengths to keep secrets from parents.
JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.
Written on November 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm , by Jonna Gallo
A few weeks ago, I spent a memorable morning at the Mott Haven Academy Charter School in the South Bronx. Created in partnership with the New York Foundling, a well-respected social service agency, Haven Academy has a unique mission: to provide a comprehensive array of school-based services (medical care, dental checkups, counseling, you name it) to children in the child welfare system. The hope is that the school—the first of its kind in the nation—will become a nationwide model geared toward helping kids in foster care thrive despite their difficult family circumstances. I was unfamiliar with the school but fell instantly in love with its passionate principal and the cheerful, competent teachers I met in its immaculate halls and classrooms.
What brought me there specifically was a celebration of Food Day, a national movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food (think fewer sugary drinks, super-salty packaged foods and fatty meats, more fruits, vegetables and whole grains).
Two celebrity chefs, Food Network star Sunny Anderson and cookbook author Katie Lee, came to cook with nearly two dozen eager fourth-graders. (My oldest is in fourth grade, so these kids particularly touched my heart.) Katie offered up how-to’s for a flavorful bean-rich taco wrap, while Sunny shared a fantastic fruit concoction that I have made twice since. (Pineapple and coconut? Um, YES please.) Check out the recipes below and give them a try, preferably with a kid you love.
Meantime, with Thanksgiving right around the corner and plenty of reasons to be grateful, I just want to say that I’m honored to have met so many kind, concerned people at New York Foundling and Haven Academy working together to provide a brighter future for struggling kids. What a blessing.
Katie Lee’s Taco Wraps (serves 6)
You will need:
‧ 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
‧ 1 tsp olive oil
‧ 1 tbsp taco seasoning
‧ 6 whole wheat tortillas
‧ 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
‧ 1 cup baby spinach leaves or lettuce
1. In a small bowl, mash beans with olive oil and taco seasoning.
2. Spread a few tablespoons of beans on the center of each tortilla.
3. Top with cheese, spinach and a couple tablespoons of salsa.
4. Starting at the bottom, roll the sides of the tortilla over the filling. Fold edges in.
5. Wrap in a piece of wax paper and cut in half.
Sunny Anderson’s Cucumber and Orange Salad with Creamy Pineapple Dressing (serves 4 to 6)
You will need:
For the dressing
‧ ½ cup canned crushed pineapple, undrained
‧ ¼ cup sour cream
‧ 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
‧ 2 tsp sugar
‧ Kosher salt
For the salad
‧ 2 oranges
‧ 2 English cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise twice to quarter, then sliced ½ inch thick
‧ ½ cup finely chopped red onion
‧ 2 tbsp sweetened coconut flakes for garnish (optional)
1. Make the dressing. In a large bowl, combine pineapple, sour cream, apple cider vinegar and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves and is not gritty. Taste and season with a tiny pinch of salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (optional).
2. Prepare the oranges. Slice off the top and bottom of each orange to create a flat surface on both ends. With orange resting on one cut end, use a knife to cut between the flesh and the pith (white covering beneath peel), angling the knife to expose the flesh from top to bottom. Hold orange in one hand over a large bowl and carefully remove segments by sliding the knife between the flesh and the membrane that separates each segment. Repeat with second orange.
3. Toss the salad with dressing. Add cucumber, red onion and dressing to bowl with oranges. Gently toss, then serve chilled or at room temperature with a sprinkle of coconut (optional).
P.S. Don’t miss Sunny Anderson’s homemade Tomato Soup in the February 2014 issue of Family Circle, on sale January 7th!
Written on November 21, 2013 at 3:37 pm , by Celia Shatzman
For many people, Thanksgiving is all about the turkey and the fixings. But for other families—mine included—the highlight of the holiday is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. So I was thrilled to visit the Macy’s Parade Studio in New Jersey to see where the magic happens.
All of the new floats are built there, where about two dozen people work year-round. John Piper, vice president of the parade studio, described the process as “a whimsical, wonderful, enchanting adventure,” which seemed pretty spot-on.
This year, five new floats will make their debut, bringing the grand total of floats in the 87th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to 30. Like Santa’s workshop, the action in the studio is nonstop; they’ve already started designs for the 2014 holiday season and even the parade’s 100th anniversary. Watch the video below for an insider preview.
Be sure to watch the parade live at 9 AM EST on NBC.
Written on November 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm , by Family Circle
The holidays are supposed to be a happy time—but all too often they can leave you frazzled and exhausted. When your schedule starts to stress you out, decompress with these three tips.
Written on November 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm , by Family Circle
Looking for creative ways to decorate your home for the holidays? Both fragrant and functional, a pretty herb wreath is easy to assemble and perfect for gifting or to hang on your kitchen wall.
Take a look at how easy the steps are!
A few pointers to get you started:
- Select hearty bright-green bunches.
- Give yourself plenty of counter space to spread out—expect to have some loose leaves.
- If making as a gift and not hanging immediately, let wreath dry on a flat surface so leaves don’t droop, exposing the form and wires.
Here’s what you’ll need:
4 bunches fresh rosemary
2 pkg fresh bay leaves
2 to 3 bunches fresh sage leaves
3 large bunches fresh thyme
3 large bunches fresh oregano
2 bunches fresh marjoram
1 8- to 10-inch grapevine wreath
Food-safe floral wire
Wire cutters and scissors
1 24-inch length of ribbon
• Spread newspaper or craft paper on a table. Divide herbs into 8 piles.
• Starting with one pile, stack rosemary, bay leaves, sage, thyme, oregano and marjoram with all stems pointing in the same direction (overstuff piles, as herbs will shrink upon drying). Secure with floral wire, leaving a 6-inch length of wire to attach herbs to wreath form. Repeat with 6 of the remaining 7 piles of herbs.
• Use floral wire to secure one bunch of herbs to the wreath form at the 11 o’clock position. Attach a second bunch of herbs, overlapping the stem end of the previous bunch. Continue around wreath form.
• Arrange the last pile of herbs with stems crisscrossing. Secure in the middle with floral wire, leaving a 6-inch length of wire to attach herbs to wreath form. Affix final bunch to wreath form at the 12 o’clock position (the ribbon will loop over the center of this bunch, hiding the stems).
• Tie ribbon around wreath and hang from a hook or cabinet handle.
This fragrant wreath is featured in our December issue on newsstands now.
Written on October 31, 2013 at 10:49 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
I moved to Boulder, Colorado, from Washington, DC, a little more than a year ago. There are a lot of wonderful things about living here. It’s beautiful, the weather is usually great (minus our biblical flood last month) and the people are incredibly nice (they don’t even honk when they have every reason to). But racially and culturally diverse it is not. And in the past I’ve noticed that when you don’t have a lot of experience with people of difference races, ethnicities or religions, you are susceptible to sometimes doing and saying things that reflect a lack of awareness.
That’s why I was really relieved and happy to see this awareness campaign at the University of Colorado for Halloween. It doesn’t blame people for being stupid or assume they’re bigots. Instead, it shows how an ignorant attempt at being funny can reinforce racial stereotypes and reflect a personal ignorance that can be really hurtful to others.
What’s particularly important about an institution like the University of Colorado doing this campaign is it takes the pressure off students who are in the minority. Being the one of anything among a majority can be exhausting and frustrating because it’s hard enough to feel comfortable in your environment without calling out people every time they say or do something stupid to you or about you.
As a parent, and especially if you live in a community where most people look the same, these are the kinds of spontaneous moments you can use to concretely impart a lesson about racism. Show your kids the Colorado campaign. Ask them what they think about it. Then tell them how you would feel if you were the parent of the Asian child, the black child or the poor white child who is being made fun of in these pictures. These are the lessons that last a lifetime.
Have you taken note of any offensive Halloween costumes this year? Post a comment and tell me what happened.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? Email email@example.com.
Written on October 29, 2013 at 2:30 pm , by Jonna Gallo
With vampires and zombies in the midst of a major Pop Culture Moment, my money is on lots of teenagers dressing up as one or the other this Halloween. Many might be tempted to amp up a costume that seems only so-so with special-effects contact lenses, but should do so ONLY with adult oversight. (Pardon the pun.) Parents, please be aware that ALL contacts, even so-called novelty or theatrical types, are still considered medical devices by the FDA. They need to be prescribed and fitted by a licensed professional—yes, even if they’re just for “show” and not corrective. And it’s crucial that lenses be stored correctly between uses and never, ever shared. (Doing so could result in a serious infection, or worse.) For more info and a detailed Safety Checklist, go to allaboutvision.com.
Written on October 27, 2013 at 10:00 am , by Family Circle
Don’t just stop at bewitching costumes this Halloween. Go all out with this season’s spookiest home decor. We’re talking gothic centerpieces for your dinning table, spooky accents for around the house, ghostly pumpkin faces for the front steps—it’s all part of getting into the fun spirit of Halloween. Plus, making crafts with the family can be a good time for bonding. Here, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite creative displays. You can make them yourself by following the steps in this story, “Bewitching Halloween Decoration.”
Written on October 26, 2013 at 11:30 am , by Family Circle
Pumpkin lovers rejoice! Today is National Pumpkin Day! And here at Family Circle, we’re celebrating the “it” flavor of fall with our favorite pumpkin recipes. There’s something for all pumpkin craving taste buds with our festive pies, cakes and other sweet treats. A favorite: our Ice Cream Pumpkin Pie (pictured below). Get the recipes to these pumpkin delights and more, here.