To Create Happy Family Memories

■ Hold a Do Nothing Day. Julie Kessel, her husband, and two sons, in Houston, Texas, have a special family ritual that's easy and doesn't cost a cent: once a month they hold a "Do Nothing Day"; to celebrate it, they do-you guessed it—absolutely nothing. Well, almost nothing. They might play Yahtzee, watch a favorite family video, hold a leisurely breakfast, or eat favorite snacks. But friends, phone, fix-it projects, housework, and even chores are all on hold. All they do is decide which day it will be, and the whole family sticks to it. Julie explains, "We have one whole day to reconnect. The kids really like it because they have our full attention without any distractions. It's a great feeling."

■ Celebrate with music. Judy Baggott, a mom of three from Palm Springs, California, uses special songs for specific occasions. Bruce Springsteen reminds their family it's the Fourth of July by singing "Born in the USA"; special carols (including "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly") bring in Christmas; and for birthdays, the whole house wakes to the Beatles singing, "Today is your birthday . . . gonna have a good time." Though her kids no longer live at home, their tradition continues: each family member still wakes up to the birthday tune, but now it's played over the telephone.

■ Upgrade family meals. Catherine Ayala, her husband, and two daughters from Santa Rosa, California, started a family tradition when her daughters were young; it is a nightly family meal (or as often as possible), but with one little twist. "I had a dinner party one day," the mom explained, "and the girls saw my nice place settings, candles, and flower arrangement and wondered why I didn't do the same for them. They were right: Why should I treat my friends better than my own family? And from that moment on things were different: one girl picks a few flowers and sets the table with place mats, another puts music on in the background and lights the candles. Everything is set in a basket so it's really quick, but it sets a mood that helps us unwind and enjoy the time together." (If there is one tradition for creating family togetherness I heard most from the moms I interviewed, it's establishing regular family meals.)

■ Reconnect at nighttime. Jane Turner Michaels started a special family routine with her three teens. They have a nightly family dinner and then everyone goes their separate ways for homework, meetings, and projects, and then at 9:30 p.m. the whole family reconvenes in the kitchen for a nighttime snack. "They'll be yours for twenty minutes," Jane explains. "It's also a great way to stay connected." Then everyone gets his goodnight send-off: a kiss, a backrub, and affirm their love for one another and it's off to bed (or in some cases, back to homework).

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