New Year – New Creativity

Happy new year everyone! This is the time of year when many people take stock, reflect on their life or the past year, and look forward to what lies ahead. Many people resolve to make a change in their life – eat healthier, exercise more, spend more time with family. Like our lives and cycles, creativity is no different; from time to time it needs a looking at, and re-evaluation to make it both productive and fulfilling.

Just as we may set certain kinds of goals for ourselves, guiding our children in goal setting is valuable to their own creative development. Studies show that children (and adults) who define their own goals, and reflect on their struggles and accomplishments, are more likely to have success with what they are trying to achieve.

Goal setting is an important link in the family chain that binds us all together. Through mindful self-reflection and daring to dream together, creativity and the family partnership towards it will grow in its own unique and creative way.

Mindful Self-Reflection.
Mindful self-reflection is the place of calm we don’t necessarily will ourselves to be in, but rather find ourselves in when we are truly ready for a creative leap. For people living a creative life, it is a crucial step in goal setting. Being able to reflect mindfully is to enter a place of calm clear thought so that ideas can flow through us, and we are then able to pull a few out for our use. Teaching mindful self-reflection to children takes patience and good modeling. We want our children to hold onto their spontaneity and creative energy, and one way they can do that is to have plenty of moments of calm and quiet, and ultimately self-reflection.

Dare to Dream.
Many people who advocate goal setting insist that a goal must be realistic. While the sentiment is valid, and we don’t want to set our children up for failure, we must also realize that goals in the mind of a child will not always sound realistic, but are actually very possible with imagination and creativity. So when your child says that she wants to ride a unicorn over the rainbow so she can dance with the giggle fairy in Lompa Land, take it seriously and embrace it as a part of her goals. It is only by encouraging thinking VERY BIG that we will raise the creators and thinkers of the world.

Monitor Progress.
As your family begins to breathe life into your stated goals, you might often find yourselves straying from project to project, or new ideas being spurned by the original plan. In our family, one of the many reasons we like to write them down, is so that we can bring our focus back when needed. For children and adults alike, every two months is a good interval in which to reevaluate goals. If that feels like too often, try sitting down with your goals at the change of seasons. With consistent reevaluation you can then be freed up to take off with different and new ideas.

Like any other aspect of creativity, the more we model ourselves in the act of reflection, goal setting, and evaluation of our own progress, the more likely our children will give it importance. In our house, goal setting takes on many forms: simple daily goals and plans made at the start of each day, to a monthly calendar of activities, to even larger project boards that show things we want to do within a season or the whole year. But modeling goal setting means even more than that. Children need to see the adults in their lives both setting goals AND working to attain them. For me, this has meant consciously changing my routine. I used to try hard to get all my exercise and writing in before the household awoke so my energies could be focused on them. That meant getting up very early, which was fine and even enjoyable. What I realized though was that some of my most important goals and their processes were never being witnessed by my family. So while I don’t want to write the entire novel in the presence of my child, he now knows what I am working towards, and gets to witness the hard work involved in my own varied personal projects. It even means that he willingly joins in my yoga practice or sits down to write alongside me. An added bonus when we get to create together.

So think of yourself as a facilitator of wonder. Reflect mindfully. Define your goals together. Model. Most of all, dare to dream!

Creative Holiday Cooking

The Creative Kitchen During the Holiday Season

Holiday magic often begins in the kitchen. Creating traditions is yet another way to build creativity, and the holiday season is a wondrous time to begin a new tradition or rediscover an old one. So as you step into your kitchen this month, involve your children, explore together, and have fun!

Tips for Holiday Cooking
Make it simple.
As with anything, if it is too complicated to keep up with, chances are good you won’t. When cooking with kids, start with simple recipes and creations that are not too involved in order to minimize that all too familiar feeling of being overwhelmed by the holidays.

Keep it festive.
Play holiday music while you are cooking or bring some of your holiday decorations into your kitchen. If you have room, set up a place in your kitchen where family members can take a break from cooking to make decorations for the windows or ones that can hang from the lights.

Let it snow!
Sifting flour, dusting with powder sugar, and other holiday cooking can often result in mess making. Be okay with a mess for the sake of holiday fun and creativity.

Things to Make and Do

Most families have a favorite sugar cookie or gingerbread recipe for using holiday cookie cutters with. Once you have made a batch, and before decorating, pop them in the freezer for use all month long. When packing a lunch, include a small container of icing and decorating items or pull out a few at a time after dinner for a special creative dessert.

Marzipan originates from Persia an introduced to Europe by way of the Turks. It is now widely used throughout Europe during the holiday season to make decorative sweets. Mix in the appropriate food colorings and you have a wonderful edible play-dough for your children to make animal scenes, or other festive and creative desserts. Try making a yule log cake and use marzipan to add your favorite woodland creatures and flora to the scene.

Tamales are a traditional Mexican Christmas dish that is sometimes too spicy for children, and even overwhelming for adults to try and organize. Tamales are actually easier than their reputation leads them to be. The steps are relatively simple:
1. Make masa by combining 3 ½ cups vegetable stock, 1 cup butter or olive oil, 1 T. salt, and 6 cups masa harina flour. Beat until the dough is a soft, paste consistency.
2. Soak dried cornhusks for about 30 minutes. You can also use banana leaves, if you prefer. When soft, spread desired amount of masa on cornhusk. Top with filling/topping of your choice. Let your kids experiment with what goes into their tamal. Try chocolate pieces, favorite fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, grated carrots, zucchini, or beets, corn, or cheese. Serve with your favorite cream topping, sauce or salsa.
3. Wrap your tamales however you would like your little presents to be: roll them up with bows on either end (you can use pieces of the cornhusks to make small ties), fold them over and ties in the middle, or however else your little present makers want them to be.
4. Place tamales on end in a pan (unless they are tied on both ends – then you can just toss them in), and steam for about 5 minutes.
Enjoy trying your hand at this wonderful tradition and let your kids make it their own.

Bread is a common holiday treat that easily lends itself to creating together. Nothing says holiday for me like braiding Nana’s Coffee Bread (see recipe at the end of this article) into a wreath and decorating it to suit my mood. If that is feeling too complicated for you, use quartered bisquits to make a tree and cover with your favorite stick blend of sugar, maple syrup, raisins and cinnamon, or for an easy bread foray with kids, try the pretzel recipe below.
Cheese Pretzels

1. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon yeast in 3 Tablespoons warm water. Watch it “work”. Spend some time talking about the yeast “eating” the sugar and needing (like all living things) food (the sugar) and warmth (the water) to grow. If the yeast takes a bit of extra time to work (which ours usually does), act it out! If you could only see us in our kitchen on days when we use yeast-- we, as yeast, don’t just “work”, we bounce, explode, and chicken dance all at once! It’s quite the sight.
2. Add
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ c. flour
- 2 Tablespoons cheese
3. Stir and Knead.
4. Cut into 3-4 pieces
5. Roll into “worms”, and shape
6. Brush with milk or a beaten egg
7. Sprinkle with salt, sesame seeds, or other topping of your choice
8. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes

Warm drinks are definitive for the holiday season. While it is always wonderful to see the emergence of egg nog in the stores this time of year, before stocking up on it try to make your own. In our house, we’ve been having fun making nut nog. Blend your soaked/sprouted almonds, cashews, or other favorite nuts and use a sprouting bag to strain out the nut meal. Add sweetener, nutmeg, cinnamon and other favorite spices to make your own nog. Explore with variations of hot chocolate, add spices, crushed candy cane or essence of peppermint. Keep a monthly tally of all the ways you have tried it and then take a family vote of the favorites.

So get on in there and cook up some holiday magic!

Nan’s Swedish Coffee Bread
Dissolve 2 cakes of yeast and a T. of sugar in warm water
Let it stand until it works.
Better than a cupp of sugar
1 ½ cubes butter
1-2 cups of boiling water
dash of salt
1 large can of evaporated milk
4 eggs or their equivalent
flour to thicken
add yeast
add more flour to thicken and 2 T. cardamom

Workout on floured board
Place in lightly greased bowl and cover with a towl.
Let rise to double.
Braid in straight loaves or circular wreaths.
Let rise.
Brush tops with milk and butter.
Bake at 350-375 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with sugar and nuts.
Enjoy with family and friends!