The Dining Room Table

Today’s blog post is submitted by our featured guest contributor, Tanya Pritt.  We hope you enjoy the post and look forward to more posts from Tanya.

I returned home to Santa Cruz, California a month ago for my mother’s 83rd birthday.  My sister, brothers and I meet together seldom, so there is always  an air of excitement when we do!   As I sat there, watching my mom (who can still dance in high heels and backwards) smiling at each of us, occasionally shaking her head and laughing, I was drawn back to the “remember when…..” conversation and was struck by the importance of tradition, storytelling, and culture of our family.

It’s the stories and the traditions of our family that have served to build foundations in our own families and now in the families of our children.  From things we said we would never repeat, but do, to the way we plan for the holidays, eat dinner together every evening, to checking in with each other even if it is just a quick text.  The similarities in my siblings’ families come from the way we were all raised and what was important.

Dinnertime was sacred when I was growing up.  We didn’t answer the phone, we didn’t get up until all had finished, and we talked about our day.  I loved these times.  Because we talked everyday during this time I felt able to bring up topics of concern when I needed to, or shortly after.  No topic was off limit.  We, depending on our ages, broached subjects that included school troubles, what was happening in our neighborhood, and more serious subjects like date rape (when we got a little older), divorce, and hunger.  I remember those serious topics and they set the stage for my own children and me when we had our dinnertime.

All of my boys were athletes and our day didn’t end most evenings until 8pm, sometimes later.  Our dinners weren’t the dinners I was fed because of the late hour.  Often, I am sorry to say, they were fast food we could pick up after a game or a practice.  The table was different too, because the homework was often stacked on top of it.  Our dinner table was the large ottoman in the family room (with a sheet thrown over it for a tablecloth.)  But we gathered around our “table” each evening and talked about our days.  And it gave us strength. No matter if life had knocked one of us down that day we knew we would be together that evening and that somehow, it would be ok.  Often teammates from my boy’s sports would join us and were sometimes surprised at the topics we discussed.  But they joined right in; some hungry for that level of sharing.

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Whatever your family traditions are, they become more important as children grow.  They offer safety, openness, a chance to set aside the cell phone and convey that the child and time as a family is most important person at that time.  Rich or poor, formal table or the ottoman, we found the dinner table was our sanctuary and that no topic was off limits. Communication proved to be what made the difference in my children’s’ lives when they faced issues that included: drug and alcohol use, choosing friends, setting goals and expectations, and confidence and self-esteem.  Today, with busy lives, they continue the tradition of the dinner table, however that is defined.  And when I join them, I become my mother, listening  and laughing at the stories they tell and their memories of “remember when…”.

10 Ideas for Family Summer Fun!

I am in love with summer in the Willamette Valley.  During the rainy spring months, I begin to dream of picnics at Mary’s River and look forward to the day when we can eat as many fresh berries as we want. Family bike rides, kids swinging, BBQs, and splashing in cool water are other activities that come to mind when I think of summer in Oregon.   There is so much to do in this area in the summer both locally and within an hour drive.  If you are new to the area or not familiar with local family friendly activities, here are some free or affordable ideas to get you started:

  1. Take your family for a picnic/hike at Finley Wildlife Refuge. My kids love to hang out for a few hours on a nice day. Hike the woodpecker trail or walk around the boardwalk. We see wildlife every time and the kids love to explore and run free!  Picnic at the old white house afterwards.
  2. Enjoy the second year of the Sage Concert Series. Let your kids dance their hearts out and feed the ducks at Starker Art’s Park.  Concert donations all benefit the Sage garden, which is an educational garden that produces over 7,000 pounds of food for emergency food shelters annually.
  3. Enjoy an affordable paddle boat ride around Waverly Lake with your family!
  4. Visit Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. This is an enjoyable activity for family members of all ages, and it is free. Enjoy flying a kite at one of the many excellent beaches on the same day.
  5. Pick berries! There are dozens of u-pick berry farms in the area. Blueberries are currently in season, and we love to pick from either Anderson’s Blues or Radkes’.  This is Oregon living at its’ best!
  6. Go swimming! Beat the heat during July and August with an affordable family swims at Osborn Aquatic Center or Cool! Pool in Albany.
  7. Participate in a “Fresh Grown Cooking for Families” class in a beautiful garden sponsored by the Healthy Youth Program. Families gather together to harvest and cook in an outdoor setting and then enjoy a simple and healthy meal together. There are also hands on garden activities and lessons each week during the program. With a $20 suggested donation for each 4 week session, families can be healthy and build community while spending less money than what it would cost to cook at home!
  8. Camp in a yurt. My family has gone on several yurt camping trips in the area, with one of our favorites being at Silver Falls State Park. For more information, check out Oregon State Parks.
  9. Make a goal to play at every park in your community this summer. Start with  Avery Park in Corvallis as a local favorite or North Albany Park.
  10. Enjoy the many fun activities happening at Monteith Park in Albany including Movies at Monteith and the River Rhythm Series.
Gabe showing up his blueberries a few summers ago!

Gabe showing up his blueberries a few summers ago!

All of my older babies have all loved being introduced to blueberries during their first summers.

All of my older babies have all loved being introduced to blueberries during their first summers.

We would love to hear your ideas of family fun during the summer! Happy summer everyone!

Happy Helping Hands

A friend and I were chatting the other day about how we are trying to find our summer rhythm at our houses. Summer brings with it a nice change of pace and opportunities to be outside so much more. I find myself relaxing a little more as a parent in the summer as the weather seems to give me an extra dose of  energy and patience. Although I love summer and the fun it brings, I have made a realization during the last couple of weeks as we have been enjoying summer to the fullest, while at the same balancing all of the demands of life. My simple realization is that my kids need to help more with chores. With my children at home so much more of the day with either my husband or myself, messes abound and I feel like I can’t keep up! When I’m not working or  swimming at the pool or river with my kids, I find myself instead swimming in a sea of laundry or trying to avoid my messy kitchen (and wishing that it would magically clean itself one of these days).

While in the process of trying to devise a plan of how I can help make chores a more consistent part of our routine, I came across this article from a New York Times blog. I can very much relate to the author, and from conversations I’ve had with many friends throughout the years, I know that this is something that parents  with children of all ages deal with. I think that it is a very normal struggle to figure out how to help children learn responsibility within a family while at the same time trying at best to minimize the whining and avoidance tactics that children can masterfully develop. Many of us start new routines and then find ourselves having a hard time sticking with them after things don’t go as well as originally hoped for. Sometimes plan A turns quickly into a plan B.

Although I am still in the process of finding what works best for my own family, I know that there are things that  have helped us in the past. If you are looking for a starting place to help your children learn how to help more at home, here are a few helpful tips to consider:

  • Remember that it is easier to be consistent when we set realistic expectations for what our kids can reasonably accomplish. If your children aren’t helping very much around the house, start small. It is better to be consistent with a few simple chores than to start off with too high of expectations and not follow through at all. As children experience success in the small tasks, we as parents can slowly increase the amount and difficulty of chores given as they get older.
  • Let your children have a say in what they do. While certain chores may be non-negotiable like a child having to clean his/her own room, take the time to listen to what he might like to take ownership over. For example, my six-year-old really wanted to be in charge of cleaning up the mudroom. He likes to organize the shoes and even help mop the tile floor. Children will at times learn to do and follow through with chores that they don’t enjoy (I still can’t say that I enjoy scrubbing toilets), but it can help reduce the struggle when the task is something that a child enjoys helping with.
  • Break more difficult tasks into pieces. If I send my children into their messy rooms and simply tell them to clean everything, the whining usually quickly beings. If I instead break the job into many small jobs, they usually have a better attitude. I might start by saying, “Clean up all of the books and put them on the bookshelf.” As my children continue to check in with me, I can keep adding on another piece to the puzzle until the whole room is clean.
  • Model how to perform a task. While we might take the time to show a seven-year-old how to fold a shirt, his version of folding might look very different than my ideal for awhile.  When children try hard but still have a hard time with a chore, it is important to praise the effort. We do not need perfection but we do expect effort.
  • Make chores fun! This is an easy one that I forget too often. Do a race with your children to clean up the playroom or turn on a fun dancing song and see if they can have the room tidied up before the song ends.
  • Remember that even young children can help with chores. A three-year-old can help set the table while you are making dinner and then carry his/her plate back to the kitchen after eating.
  • Let you children know that their chores must be done before certain fun things get to happen. For example, it might be standard in your house that your nine-year-old water the flowers outside before she may go and ask a neighbor to play.

I would love to hear what has worked well for your families when trying to establish and maintain chore responsibilities.

Gabe helping me plant our garden this last spring.

Gabe helping me plant our garden this last spring.