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Ready or not—here comes the 4th of July! But what if this year you really connected with your family, not just got the grill out and some sparklers? Holidays are a great opportunity to connect, strengthen family bonds, build your family identity, maintain or start new traditions, and even learn some history in a fun way! Oh, and eat good food!

1. Eat Together. (And Let The Kids Plan And Cook The Meal!)

If you are anything like the average American family, it is getting rarer and rarer to eat together as a family. This a great opportunity! Whether you go the traditional burgers and hot dogs route or the kids pick some crazy stuff—make sure everyone eats together. (And that they put their phones away after they snap a couple of pics of the family and yummy food.) There is just something special about sharing a meal together that strengthens family bonds. Don’t let your teenager make a plate and disappear to watch television or play video games. This is family time!

2. Cultivate Conversations!

Just like the charcoal grill needs some time to warm up, conversations often need a little time to get cooking. While you are eating, have some conversation starters ready—What are you looking forward to this summer? Whats your favorite family memory & why? What 4th of July stands out in your memory? Is there anything that we (parents) DON’T let you (kids) do that you wish you had the FREEDOM to do? ★ Retell “those” stories that tend to come up when everyone is together and laugh at them. If you have multiple generations of your family represented or extended family, encourage them to tell stories from “back in their day” or how their families celebrated holidays. Don’t rush off—let the conversations ebb and flow.

3. Have Fun!

Card games, board games, get the Heads Up app on someone’s phone. (It’s a blast for the whole family!) Depending on how old the kids are and the weather, don’t be afraid to get wet. Get that sprinkler out, the kiddie pool, water balloons, squirt guns, or just start spraying kids with the hose! (They’ll scream and run away—and then run back for more.) The internet is full of Fourth of July craft ideas. For a twist, let the kids pick the crafts and games or even let them make up a game that everyone plays. Go for a walk after dinner around the neighborhood or ride some bikes. Stop and say “Hi” to your neighbors.

4. Learn A Little History Together!

Reenactments, movies, and virtual tours are great fun ways to learn a little about what Independence Day actually means (or just some American history in general). These can be fun for everyone, plus they can add a little depth to your Fourth of July. (Don’t make it like school—school’s out!) For reenactments, you don’t need elaborate costumes or props. They’ll be more fun (and funny) with what’s laying around the house. The midnight ride of Paul Revere, Washington crossing the Delaware, battling the British, cracking the Liberty Bell, the family forming the Statue of Liberty. Whatever!

Check your television or streaming service for specials, documentaries, biopics, or age-appropriate war movies to learn about the lives and sacrifices that built America. Gather the family around for some edutainment!

Virtual Tours are awesome! Maybe try the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, The Museum of Flight, National Women’s History Museum, NASA, The American Battlefield Trust Virtual Battlefield Tours, or any number of others. What better time to learn about the country than on the Fourth! Can’t decide? Try one of these 15 virtual tours of American landmarks. (If possible, connect it to your television!) Lots of virtual tours have games built into them like scavenger hunts.

Be intentional about this (and all holidays).

Sometimes we get so busy with food, crafts, and decorations that we forget about family. (Your kids won’t remember the perfectly matched plates, napkins, and cups. They will remember the family fun and conversation!) ★ If you are one of the many people who feel conflicted celebrating this Fourth of July given our current events, remember, this country affords us the freedom to talk with our families about the ideals upon which this country was founded—”life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,”—and what we have seen happening across our country. It’s a great conversation with our children to learn the responsibility that all of us carry to live out those ideals. Seize this moment with your family! This is the perfect day to examine our country and ourselves. 

This Fourth of July doesn’t have to just be an excuse to get the grill out—it can be a meaningful and profound way to connect as a family!

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At the start of this year, there was no way anyone would have guessed school would be out, everyone would be quarantined, and spring break would be canceled. And yet, here we are. As a highschooler, how are you supposed to enjoy time off of school when you’re stuck at home either by yourself or with your family?

It all starts with your mind! No matter what, if you’re stuck in the mindset that you can’t have fun because your spring break plans are canceled, then there’s no possible way that you will enjoy the week off from school! BUT, if you choose to do some of these things to transition your mind to thinking positively, you’ve got a much higher chance of actually enjoying your spring break, even if you are stuck at home. Yes, some of these things might seem cliché, but we promise—they work!

To transition your mindset, try…

  • Writing a list of 20 things you’re thankful for. Go beyond your friends or a roof over your head. Dig deep and really think it through.
  • Feeling good about yourself. If that means dressing nicely, doing your hair, getting outside, or video chatting with some friends, do whatever you need to feel confident and content.
  • Closing your door for a second. Even if you can’t actually spend time by yourself (hello, younger siblings), spend a minute stepping away from your phone, Netflix, and/or any other distractions and just breathe for a minute.
  • Don’t blame your parents. Right now, everyone in the world is under a ton of stress and each person is dealing with it in their own way. Your parents are in the same boat, too! This is new and difficult for everyone.

Okay… Now that your mindset is right, here are some great ways you can choose to have fun on this year’s spring break!

  • “Travel” the world. Just because you can’t go anywhere doesn’t mean you can’t pretend you can! Recreate the most photographed places in the world out of things around your house. A paper towel roll can turn into the Leaning Tower of Pisa if you try hard enough!
  • Plan a family night. From dinner to games to questions to ask each other, take family night into your own hands! If everyone in your family can’t participate, put together a friend’s night via video call: eat dinner together, watch a movie together, and enjoy a little company.
  • Put together a tutorial. Love doing makeup? Play the guitar? Have a hidden talent (even if it’s making that whistling sound with grass)? Know a few tips for your favorite video game? Put together a tutorial video for your best skill, then share it with family and friends!
  • Plan next year’s spring break. Just because you can’t do it now doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen! Plan a trip with your family or friends to take for next year’s spring break, from where you want to stay to the best restaurants in the area.
  • Teach your favorite TikTok dance. Sure, your mom might not seem super into it. But maybe she’ll give it a try! Teach your parents or your siblings all your faves and then do a group video. Can’t convince them to join in? Have a dance-off with some friends over a video call!
  • Learn something new. Try making cookies you’ve never had before. Teach yourself how to sing (YouTube videos help!). Learn how to make homemade bread. Try a new way to exercise. Write a short story. PRO TIP: start a challenge with your friends to try something new every day, and maybe teach each other what you learned!
  • Break a world record. There are SO many world records out there, and some of them are honestly not that impressive. Try to break one of them, whether it’s the fastest time to put 24 cans in the fridge or the most t-shirts put on in one minute.

Even if your spring break isn’t looking like you had planned or got canceled altogether, you can still have fun! Use the time you have off from school to know yourself better, know your family better, and know your friends better, too! The opportunities we have right now are unique and once-in-a-lifetime. Don’t waste your spring break wishing your situation was different. Instead, you can choose to enjoy it to the best of your ability!

(Also, if you do end up doing one of these activities for your spring break, be sure to tag us at @relatableftf!)

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My wife Kristin reminded me last night that we have our wedding anniversary coming up next week! Let me be real with you – it would have snuck up on me anyway. However, with everything happening with working remotely, the kids being home, and the pressure to practice healthy social distancing, it honestly slipped my mind. Really – that’s my excuse! But not my wife, obviously. Nothing gets past her.

After nonchalantly acknowledging her reminder as if I knew it all along, she joked that we may be celebrating by eating fancy steak dinners in our car served from the curbside delivery that area restaurants are starting to offer – especially since they are closing their dining areas and only offering to-go orders. And then it hit me – we can’t celebrate like we really want to.

There are so many occasions, celebrations, and events that people have planned – that you have probably planned – that now we can’t go through with or do the way we originally wanted. Birthday parties, special trips, anniversaries, graduations, religious services, kids’ sports events – even enjoying the professional and college basketball seasons – all put on hold, canceled, changed.

I get it. In addition to our wedding anniversary, we’ve canceled our original plans for one daughter’s birthday party, a special trip to New York for me and our other daughter, a trip to Denver for my wife, and most of my daughter’s track meets for the season. It stinks. And it makes us sad, and maybe angry. Not to mention all the other emotions stirred up by the current circumstances. Maybe you’re feeling like you’re beginning to lose things – a sense of normalcy, the thrill of celebration, the expectancy of fun and new experiences. And all that time and energy (and possibly money) you’ve spent making plans. It’s disorienting. And it’s unfair.

When you lose something, you grieve. Right now, we’re grieving normalcy. We need to acknowledge that and call it what it is.

Among many other things, we are in a time of grief for plans that have gone down the drain. Let’s think about that for a moment. You’re grieving the loss of expectations and dreams of things you would be doing just like you’d grieve the death of a family member, or a pet, or the loss of a job.

Try not to think of grief as a single emotion like sadness or sorrow. Yes, it’s perfectly normal to have some strong feels when you know you can’t celebrate your child’s birthday like you were hoping. But it’s helpful to think of grief itself as a process that involves complex emotions. And contrary to what some may believe, grief is valuable and healthy. It reminds us of what we care about. Grief helps us come to terms with the loss we feel and the emotions that follow. Which is why it’s so important to talk – and give our family members the chance to talk – about what it is you’re grieving. Giving words to what you’re feeling about losing that trip or that party or that graduation ceremony is healing.

That being said – grief is not a place where we want to camp out. The grieving process should help us to move forward at a healthy pace. So what does moving forward look like for you as you grieve plans made and lost for these next few weeks?

Here are some ideas:

1. Don’t not celebrate.

(Ok, I know that was a double-negative.) On the contrary, replace the plans you had with something. Can’t go to the jump-park for your son’s birthday party with friends? Celebrate at home with the family and a Nerf gun war and serve some ice cream. Graduation ruined? Conduct your own graduation ceremony, complete with a “Pomp and Circumstance” processional, a commencement speech by a family member, the throwing of the cap and lots of pictures. Baseball games canceled? Two words: backyard kickball! Make the best of alternate plans with creativity and a shift in your attitude.

2. Be sure to take pictures and selfies of whatever you do.

Although the memories you expected to make aren’t happening, there will be a day you look back and remember this crazy time. Having the visuals of how your family persevered through this will provide strength for challenging times in the future. It’s a way of reinforcing the idea that “we came through that – and by golly, we even had some fun.”

3. Shift your focus from the plans you weren’t able to do and onto the people you are now with.

So you’re eating anniversary lobster from the front seat of your sedan rather than a candlelit restaurant table. Switch your attention to the person eating lobster in the passenger seat next to you, enjoy the moment and just have some great conversation. Don’t forget to wear your lobster bib.

4. Finally, have hope.

We know that times are uncertain, but I think it’s important to keep in the forefront of our minds that there is an “other side” to all this. Birthdays and anniversaries come around about once a year (from what I understand). The beach will be there after COVID-19 has run its course (I’m no doctor, but I do think it will run its course if we all do what we need to do and stay home). And let’s face it – we won’t have to watch professional bowling or darts on ESPN forever.

Share this hope with your family. You’re all grieving to some degree. Allow the grief process to move you forward, make memories, and focus on the ones you love rather than the plans that were lost.

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The past few days have been filled with change and upheaval for me and my family. In two days’ time, my husband and I drove 1600 miles in order to clean out our son’s dorm room prior to his campus shutting down. 

I remember when I first drove to campus to drop him off for orientation. It was so exciting. and I was greeted with a beautiful banner that said, “Welcome to Columbia.” But as we drove up Amsterdam Avenue for what may be the last time, I was hit with a stark contrast– no smiling people saying, “So glad to see you, Can we help get your things out of the car?” 

Instead, it was dark, isolated, and almost midnight, similar to how I was feeling on the inside. If I was honest, that was not how I imagined my final visit to Columbia would go. In my mind, our whole family would have traveled together to watch while my son’s name was called. 

I realize I am not alone in feeling this way. Many other graduates from all levels have had their graduation/commencement ceremonies postponed or even canceled. As family members who have supported them through the past 4 years, you, too, may be hoping for another outcome. 

The question for us now is, “How do we deal with the disappointment that we feel while also celebrating the accomplishments they have achieved?

Acknowledge your feelings. 

You may be angry. But if you look deeper, you may really be experiencing disappointment, sadness, or grieving the loss of a dream. Whatever you are feeling, let it come.  Bottling it up and/or acting like everything is normal (which it obviously isn’t) may only make things worse. It’s ok to talk about how you feel. Make sure to listen to how other family members and friends are feeling, too.

Celebrate anyway.

Because in today’s society, we have so few ceremonies that mark life’s transitions, find a way to commemorate the accomplishment – both now and later. If the school is providing some type of ceremony, think about participating even if it’s online. We are living in a different time now, so we have to be willing to change and adapt accordingly. But by all means, CELEBRATE!

Embrace the journey of the past and look forward to the future.

Whether you are graduating from high school, college, graduate school or technical school, you worked hard by studying. You made sacrifices of your time to be a successful student. Whether you’re the parent, guardian, friend or family member, you also sacrificed money and time to support them. No matter how exciting the graduations, formals, and other senior celebrations are, I am reminded that they mark the end of one phase of life while simultaneously signaling the beginning of another. It’s important to look back, learn from the past, and move toward the future. Know that everything has led you to this point in your life. 

I’m still hopeful that my son’s university will hold commencement exercises, and if they do, you can bet I will be there. (I mean, we earned it, you know!) In all seriousness, I’ve been in my feelings since I found out that what I expected to happen was not going to happen the way I thought it would happen. Some things are out of my control, but I’m trying to accept the things I can’t control, have the courage to change the things that I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. I’m hopeful we can all find ways to make the most of a situation we never dreamed we would face.

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Do you remember the date of your wedding anniversary? If you didn’t cheat and look at the engraved date on your wedding band, give yourself some points.

How many years have you been married? If you had to think to figure it out, take away some points.

How did you celebrate your last anniversary? Did you remember without having to ask your spouse what you did?

If the answer is yes, give yourself a few more points. Add some points to your total if you did something fun as a couple. 

If you let it slide by with no real celebration because you didn’t have time or were too tired, take away a few points. 

If you completely forgot your wedding anniversary, you just lost ALL your points.

Couples marry and even a year or two into their marriage they are still planning crazy fun adventures to celebrate their love. But after a few years, things begin to settle down. Children come along and creativity often flies out the window. Who has time or even feels like planning to celebrate a silly anniversary?

We do a great job of celebrating birthdays and holidays, but lots of couples let their wedding anniversary slide by. Think about it – how many wedding anniversaries do you recall celebrating?

Birthdays and holidays are certainly things to celebrate. But, considering how much time, effort and energy it takes to make a marriage really hum, wedding anniversaries are cause for celebration. If your marriage faced exceptional challenges during the year, some anniversaries might deserve a huge celebration to acknowledge making it through the tough times.

When life is coming at you full speed ahead, you can easily take your marriage for granted. But doing this over the years is like watching a sinkhole form. Erosion is taking place underneath the surface. And while there may be a few signs things aren’t right, it may not appear to be anything major until the whole thing caves in and people are shocked.

Don’t take your marriage for granted. It’s up to both people in the marriage to intentionally make every anniversary something you won’t forget. Every time you make it another year, celebrate what you have and dream about your future together.

Whether your anniversary is this weekend or nine months from now, take the time to make it special. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Re-create your first date, plan a romantic evening, write a love letter to your spouse or plan a surprise getaway. Do married well!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***