Using Technology to Strengthen Family and Friendships

The Internet | Social Networking | Blogs | Web Pages | Pictures | Video Visits | E-mail

Conventional Wisdom says that technology is disrupting family life. People worry about kids spending too much time playing video games, teens texting instead of talking, adults wasting time surfing the Internet, and dangers such as the invasion of our privacy. Twenty-five years ago, there were only a thousand internet devices in existence; within eight more years, there were a million. Last year the total hit a billion!

Cellphone calls, e-mail, text messages, MySpace, Facebook, and other new forms of communication have weakened family life ~ Right? Actually, wrong. According to what is described as the first major study on the impact of technology on families, published in October 2008 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, family life has actually been strengthened by communication through devices such as cell phones and computers. Families say that technology doesn’t cut down on physical presence, but it does allow families to know what each other is doing during the day.

Facebook is destroying the Nuclear Family ~ True or False? True, in a good way! Social networking is destroying the isolation of the nuclear family from the extended family~ With electronic means of staying in touch, grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins, adult siblings are reconnecting.

Here are a few statistics from the recent Pew study:

25% of parents said instant messaging has helped improve relationships with their children.

89% of American families have at least one cell phone. Only 2% of adults said that use of cell phones and other new technologies decreased the quality of family communication. 47% said it improved the quality and 47% said it had no effect. 53% said they helped them stay in touch with distant relatives.

70% of American married couples who have cell phones call each other every day. About half connect with their children every day.

An additional benefit of the new technology is that it has cut down on TV viewing~ 25% of people say that they watch less and only 58% of 18-29 year olds now say they watch TV every day.


52% of American families who use the internet go online with another person in their home at least a few times a week. 86% of families go online together at least occasionally and families with multiple televisions and computers are just as likely to share screen time.

Families and friends can:

Play games~ There are even fun sites that teach or reinforce math & reading skills!

(Our family enjoys playing Weboggle~ We can play as a team even when we’re in different states. This game can be found at Warning: Some players choose offensive names~ There is an option on the score panel to “disemvowel” them; it hides all the vowels in the player & team names.)

Research information for areas of mutual interest, school reports, travel, pets, purchases, etc.

Find ideas for holiday or craft projects, area events,

Take virtual tours of famous places, museums, etc.

Listen to music, sermons & speeches, or stories

Share "Hey, look at this!" videos on sites such as,, and

Here are examples of some “Just for fun” videos:

Links to Websites We Recommend

Check out for sites on family activities and traditions, as well as sties for holiday ideas

Check out for recommended sites on fun videos, reading, language, math, science, social studies, art, the Bible, holidays, and more. Then create your own Delicious page at to share your favorite sites with family & friends. "Delicious is a social bookmarking service that allows users to tag, save, manage and share web pages from a centralized source, greatly improving how people discover, remember and share on the Internet."

Host an online shower. Why would you want to have a shower over the Internet instead of in-person? Perhaps an engaged couple lives far away from their family and friends or an expectant mom is on bed rest. Your virtual shower can include a guest book, photos, blogs and/or real time chats, games, and links to gift registries. The event can last for a day, several days, or even a few weeks. If you can't or don't want to set it up yourself, sites like will do it for a fee. Even "real" parties often use online RSVP sites for invitations and responses. It's fun to be able to see who is coming to an event and to be able to leave a greeting if you can't make it.


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A sister-in-law in Texas, a best friend from second grade, a niece in Michigan, six cousins in Kentucky, the daughter of a college roommate, a former colleague, over 40 former Sunday School students, the parents of our daughter-in-law, folks we’ve met through traveling for The Advent Book, a member of our Small Group now living out-of-town, a missionary in Albania, a collaborator on a book, and our children. What does this diverse group of people have in common? They are all Facebook Friends.

There are several popular social networks, including My Space (which if it were a country, would be the fifth largest in the world), but in this newsletter we are going to focus on the one we use most, Facebook. Facebook has enabled us to be part of the lives of these people in ways that we wouldn’t have dreamed of, even a few years ago. In “real time” we get to see pictures of our son surfing, our daughter-in-law’s new first grade classroom bulletin board, our daughter’s trip to Key West, our friends’ new grandchildren, and the smiling faces of many former classmates (none of whom have changed a bit since we last saw them). We can find out when a Friend is having a bad day or a big test coming up and needs prayer, when a Friend is to be congratulated or sent birthday greetings, or when a Friend gets a new job, tries a new hobby, or recommends a new book or movie. Prior to Facebook, we didn’t enjoy this extent of communication even through use of every other format including letters, e-mail, instant messaging, and phone calls. Within the last two years, we have reestablished relationships with at least six out-of-state nieces and nephews that we didn’t see or talk with for a decade! There are many people who slip out of our lives, despite good intentions to keep in touch. Facebook is an amazingly easy way to reconnect and stay connected with family and friends.

Here are some testimonials from other people:

“ I am now friends on Facebook with my mom, my siblings, my 82-year old aunt, and dozens of cousins, children of cousins, nieces, nephews, and other extended family.”

“At 55, and with an empty nest, we have found that the social media has really blessed our lives. When our youngest left, we longed for the fun banter and conversation that had permeated our home for over 30+ years. These electronic networks full of pictures and conversation have increased the memories and make us proud to be at this point in our life. We have even used some of our creativity to contribute to the conversation and assist others to connect in a meaningful way.” (BTW, in February 2009, InsideFacebook reported that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is parents, particularly women over 55.)

Have you avoided Facebook because it’s a “waste of time”? It can be a fun frivolous pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be time-consuming. We personally ignore almost all of the games, gifts, gimmicks, and groups except for those directly related to our church, schools, and families. To make Facebook convenient to use, we recommend making your Friends’ updates part of your internet homepage. Both Google and Yahoo have options for personalization. ( and iGoogle offers an application that displays Friends status updates; provides a link. By having our Friends’ updates featured on our iGoogle home page, we enjoy following them with an investment of as little as a few seconds a day. If privacy is a concern, there are options that allow you to “hide” parts or all of your information from everyone except those to whom you choose to allow access.


Blogs may be personal journals or public forums. Personal journals can be used to keep families and friends updated with news and to share pictures and videos.Sometimes people in a crisis such as undergoing a difficult cancer treatment or caring for a child born prematurely will start a blog to enable concerned friends and family members to be kept aware of the family’s progress and needs.

Sometimes people follow a blog belonging to someone they've never met~ For example, a mother may choose to follow other moms' blogs to find ideas, resources, and encouragement. There are blog communities for people in almost any situation; some are even organized by geographic location.

Moms might want to check out (MOPS) , (Hearts at Home), or Bloggers can subscribe to news feeds (RRS) for to be notified of updates on favorite blogs or discussion topics.

There’s been a lot of news about Twitter recently. For those of you who are not familiar with Twitter, it is a sort of “mini-blog”~ it works the same way as a blog on a standard site such as or You might wonder, “What’s the difference between posting updates on Facebook and putting them on Twitter?” The main difference is that people don’t have to join Twitter or become Friends to see “Tweets” (although privacy controls are available). Also, your comments do not show up on anyone’s Home Page, so you may feel freer to post more frequent and/or trivial comments.

So… Is there a compelling reason to consider using Twitter? Yes. Although it’s true that comments like “I just ate half a pizza.” “Sitting in traffic.” “Watching 60 Minutes” are not terribly interesting to most people, there are situations for which you might appreciate Twitter, especially with updates from mobile devices such as a Blackberry or iPhone. Some examples are:

For doting grandparents or other relatives to follow a mom/baby’s labor, delivery, homecoming, first word, meal, steps, potty-training, etc.

For parents and friends of someone on an adventure~ a missions or college choir trip, a sports or debate competition, etc.

For following the wisdom and actions of a favorite pastor, teacher, writer, etc.

For churches or ministry groups to use to update members with reminders and information on activities, opportunities, prayer requests, etc.


There are many ways to develop and maintain a web page for family or friend groups. We think the easiest is Facebook. To start a family group on face book go to It’s free and very simple to set up:

1. Name your group. 2. Fill in the blanks to invite Facebook family members to join the group; then invite family members who aren’t on Facebook.

We started a Facebook Stockman Family group for Jack’s extended family and within two days there were twelve members from at least six states. Two of them who did not know each other’s existence had been doing independent genealogical research and will now be able to share resources. In addition to public posts (messages, pictures, and videos) on the page, you can send private messages to members of the group.

You could also create a Group for friends from a school you attended, a group from your church, a book club, MOPS group, etc.

Family Web Site Hosts
Free for up to 100 mg of uploads, but has advertisements on family’s pages
$29.95 per year for a site no ads, 1 gb of uploads, custom designs, etc.
No ads / Attractive design, but it costs $50. per year after free trial ($115 for premium)
At least $10. per month, unless you use a limited free plan


Do you remember when the only way to share photos was to go out to buy a roll of film, take some pictures (then wait until you finish all 24 or 36 before removing the film from the camera), send or bring the film in to be developed and wait for it to the processing and returned or pick-up, choose the pictures you want copies of, then take the negatives back to the store to be developed, then mail the pictures to a recipient. This could take weeks! Now you can take a digital picture of a new baby, graduate, bride or birthday honoree on your phone and share it instantly.

In addition to sharing digital photos on slide shows, DVDs, blogs & websites, you can also scan old hard copy photographs and save them as digital files to share in the same ways.

Websites for Online Photo Sharing

There are a number of sites that will display your family pictures. Try , , , / , or .

Websites for Creating Photo Albums

Good Housekeeping Magazine Reviews

Overall Winner
Smartly laid out, 100 page layouts
20 page 8 ½ by 11 hardcover book cost about $42.

Value Selection
Easy to use, but not as many creative options
20 page 8 ½ by 11 hardcover book cost about $25.

Most Versatile
Total artistic freedom~ Choose everything from photo size and placement to caption fonts and more
Over 50 cover styles to choose from

20 page 8 ½ by 11 hardcover book cost about $45.

For Mac Users

Can be done on your hard drive with iLife software (standard on Macs)
20 page 8 ½ by 11 hardcover book cost about $40.
Some sites also offer services for printing calendars and/or Christmas ornaments using your favorite pictures.


Skype & iChat

One of our new favorite means of communicating! Two years ago we celebrated our first Christmas without our son, Shea. He was newly married and he and his wife Becky were spending Christmas with her family on the East Coast. We decided to use web cams to include them in one of our favorite family traditions, Question Time. (Each family member answers a question, then opens a "Goodie Bag" with small treats. See for a full explanation of Question Time.) We sent Shea & Becky their “Goodie Bags” ahead of time. When the extended family gathered together to answer the questions, Shea & Becky were able to participate with us via computers. (Ours was hooked up to a large screen TV.) Although the virtual interaction was really fun, we didn’t use the technology again for over a year, except for a few short conversations. Then this Christmas when Shea & Becky were with us and we were enjoying a dinner together, I started thinking about how much we missed being with them. I wondered why we weren’t doing more video visiting. After Shea & Becky returned to their home in Florida, we invited them to share a virtual pizza dinner with us, with the pizza as our treat. It was the first of what has become a new Stockman family tradition. In addition to sharing regular meals together, we have initiated Game Nights (always a favorite in our home) via web cams. Some games that can be adapted for playing long distance are: Scattergories, Taboo, Charades, CatchPhrase, Password, Pictionary, and Boggle. (With the latter two, you will probably want to focus the camera on the game itself at times.) For most games, you’ll need to have a copy of the game on each end.

This technology is very useful for missionary and military families. Family members all over the world have been able to participate in births, special ceremonies, and holiday traditions. (One family wrote to us to tell us that they had enjoyed reading The Advent Book via video cam with the dad, who was stationed in Iraq.) What a blessing!

When you use Virtual Visiting, we recommend having an activity planned. It helps avoid stilted conversations and awkward silences and keeps children engaged. Besides meals or games, you can simultaneously work on craft projects, read an article or short story for discussion, or use a question resource such as Chat Pack ( )

For a visit with grandparents, children can read aloud a story or composition of their own, play a musical instrument, demonstrate a tumbling skill, or even just show them how a new toy works.

Whatever you do, we recommend structuring it so that people take turns talking. Spontaneous chatter can be difficult to follow because of limitations such as deficient sound quality, small screens, etc. We recently enjoyed a short visit between our extended family (15 people present) and Shea & Becky while we were having dessert on Easter Sunday~ It was fun, but for clarity we recommend also putting the camera in a quiet room and limiting the number of participants to 1-4 at a time. That’s generally the most that can be on the screen at once without placing the camera too far away to see people’s expressions clearly.

Many people use Skype for their video chatting. Download the software at You can also use Google Talk ( ) or Gmail Video Chat. ( If you have a Mac, you can just use the VideoChat feature on the already-installed iChat application. All are free. Newer computers often have built in cameras; if your computer does not have one, you can get a camera for less than $100.


Publish your own books of family stories or history. With Print on Demand services such as,,,, etc., you can design your own book or have it done for you, then order copies as needed. Different family members might want to take on the tasks of collecting and scanning newspaper clippings, journal entries, documents, photos, etc., researching/interviewing , writing the content, editing, and layout/designing of the book and its cover.


Instant messaging (IM) is not as popular as it was back when half of internet users were on AOL, but many people still use AIM, iChat, Google Talk, Yahoo, MSN, or their accounts on their social networks (i.e. Facebook & MySpace) to IM. Advantages are that it is simple and free; disadvantages are that you are tied to a computer, you can get frustrated if you’re a slow typist, and some conversations can get quite convoluted when one participant is responding to a previous blurb while the other one is already writing about a new topic. I used to IM at length with a good friend who lived out-of-state~ Printed transcripts of our conversations would make no sense to most people, although we were able to follow the flow with no problem! Today, a majority of young people use their cell phones to send text messages rather than their computers to instant message.

Some of you who are reading this may send out a dozen or more text messages a day~ Others of you have never sent even one. Older people tend to say that they don’t see the point, that if they want to communicate, they just pick up the phone and call or send an e-mail. Teenagers and young adults feel that texting has a more casual, low-stress feel than phoning or using e-mail (which they regard as too static and formal). The number of teens using e-mail has actually declined since 2005.

Even if you don’t see the point of a particular form of communication, we say that if it works with a person with whom you want to connect, “Use it!” A young adult friend of ours advises, “Moms and Dads, don't be afraid to get a facebook account, don't be afraid to text your daughter, or IM your son, chances are they will communicate with you via these channels because they are familiar with them… A great example, about a half year ago, my dad starting texting me and your know what, we now have a consistent conversion via texting as I have moved out of the house. Sure, it was most likely awkward for him, but he is communicating with his son.” He also recommends: "Parents, try to keep up with the terminology, lingo, and technology concepts, a least a little. The more you know about a piece of technology, the more you will be able to protect and enjoy technology with your children. Your children will respect you if you at least know a thing or two about their video game system, ipod, cell phone, or computer… The more you know, the more you can connect with (who knows, you might actually like playing your daughter's Wii or son's Playstation 3)… Sit down and play a video game with your child. I guarantee, for the first few minutes you will think its the stupidest thing ever and you will be frustrated, after that you may actually like it (if its a wholesome game). While you may not be enjoying the game, I can also guarantee that your son or daughter is getting a good laugh at how bad you may be at it! But if we step back, you and your child are spending time together, sitting there, playing a video game. Remember, if you want them to do activities that you want to do, then you may have to do activities they want to do. Once again, technology has allowed you to connect with your child!”


It’s not extinct yet! Two benefits of communicating by e-mail versus a blog or social network (i.e. Facebook) are that you can write to anyone, regardless of whether they have joined that network, and that you don’t have to depend on your family or friends to regularly sign visit the site to check messages. (There are still a few people out there who don’t regularly check their e-mail either~ You know who you are!)

E-mail is great for providing extensive information such as directions, explanations, or lists and for communicating needs and prayer requests. Members of our church small group really appreciated updates when they missed meetings~ And even those who had attended were glad to have prayer requests, dates, and reminders of future reading assignments in writing. One of my favorite group e-mails is the one my extended family does each Christmas~ We post our gift wish-lists (which always include non-material gifts) and comments about what we’re looking forward to, who will be missed, etc.

We take it for granted, but it is truly amazing that we can send a letter to pretty much anyone, pretty much anywhere, and that it will get there pretty much instantly~ all for free. It is a blessing.

In addition to letters, you can also send cards. There’s nothing like the “real” thing, but if a date comes and you realize that you have missed the boat for sending snail mail, there are e-card services that have great cards you can personalize and send, some for a fee and some for free. The one we have used the most is|10001|10051|-102001|147551;-102001|ecards|E-Cards. It has a nice selection of free cards and some even sing & dance!

There are many other ideas and technologies available, so we will continually develop this page. Come back again! We’d also love to have you share your ideas or hear your stories about how technology has strengthened your family & friends’ relationships. Please encourage others by posting your stories on our blog page at .

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Parties: Recipes for Fun


This page includes themes and activities for ten great parties, as well as a delicious recipe.

There are three reasons people most often give parties: to honor someone on the occasion of a birthday, anniversary, or milestone; to commemorate a holiday or event; or to simply enjoy fun, food, and fellowship.

When preparing for a special occasion, we often think about cleaning and decorating our homes, preparing refreshments, and choosing gifts, but many celebrations would be much more special with some structure. When we want to determine whether a celebration will be meaningful, we ask ourselves if it is "generic." Would the party do just as well for any other event or be just as appropriate for any other person? What can we do to specifically honor the day or the celebrant? We try to be intentional, to plan at least one activity or feature that fosters the purpose of the event.

Sometimes it might be appropriate to have someone give or read a blessing-- for a new home, new baby, a graduate, someone beginning a new ministry or moving away, or at party following a baby dedication or a baptism. Guests might be asked to share memories or give words of encouragement. These can be recorded on cards, in a journal, on a timeline posted on a wall, or in audio or video recordings.

Music can also make an occasion special. Listen to the same romantic album every year on your anniversary or play music from the era of the honoree's birth. You might make an event special by incorporating live music-- It doesn't have to be professional and expensive. Can you get a small group of talented teenagers to perform? Or ask a few members of your church choir to serenade an honored guest? For Kathy's dad's 80th birthday, a group of local musicians who usually play at our town's Farmer's Market provided Blue Grass music that fit the theme of our country party. For souvenirs we made old-fashioned fans with pictures of dad from different eras of his life.

Kathy's mother came from country roots too, but she also loves formality. We wanted the celebration for her 80th birthday to honor her~ She is a creative seamstress, an antiques dealer, and a writer of poetry. We found a beautiful church in which to hold an old-fashioned ice-cream social, which allowed her to dress up and us to make use of her antique linens and silverware. The party included a slide show history of her life and a sing-a-long with songs from her era. Little booklets of mom's poetry were distributed to guests as souvenirs.
Think back on a party that you particularly enjoyed. What made it special?

Not all parties are in honor of specific people or events. Some are simply an occasion to enjoy fun, food, and fellowship, but even those can have a purpose.


Each of the ten parties described in this newsletter is designed to help people to get to know each other better and have fun on a very minimal budget. (Don't let finances prohibit hospitality~ Most people are very happy to share the responsibility of providing refreshments and other resources.)

Ask each guest or family member to e-mail you about a dozen digital pictures. They can be from vacations, childhood, college days, or special events like a wedding. Put together a slide show using a program like Power Point or iPhoto and show it at the party using a digital projector or by connecting your computer to a TV set.  You can also do it the old fashioned way if your friends have film slides. The guests can talk about the pictures as you show them.

Ask a friend who plays guitar or piano to lead a sing-a-long. Depending on the time of year/age/interest of your guests, you can sing famous Oldies, tunes from Broadway musicals, Gospel songs, or Christmas carols. Or if your friends are game, borrow a karaoke machine.

Prepare games that all your guests can play together or in separate areas (at your kitchen and/or dining room tables, around the living room coffee table, etc.) and let them alternate games and groups during the evening. Rotate about every 30-45 minutes with at least one snack break. Here are two ideas for Get Acquainted games you might want to start out with:
I've Done Something You Haven't
Give your guests 25 pennies each, then have them introduce themselves and tell about something they have done that they doubt anyone else has. The speaker must give one of their pennies to each person who has also done whatever they named. After everyone has shared, the person with the most pennies is the winner. Ideas for the kinds of things that could be mentioned: Traveled to a third world country / Ridden in a helicopter / Stayed up reading until at least 3 a.m. / Done a solo voice or instrumental musical performance / Cooked a Julia Child recipe / Run a marathon or half-marathon / Stayed in a 1 star hotel. This game will inevitably result in the sharing of some interesting stories!
Two Truths & A Lie
Each guest prepares three statements, two of which are true and one of which is a lie. One at a time, each person shares his or her three statements with the entire group. The rest of the group votes on each statement, after which the person reveals which one is the lie. Whoever guesses the most statements correctly wins.

Organize a number of friends from your neighborhood, condo/apartment building, church, or MOPS group to have a progressive dinner at three or four homes. Guests can help hosts provide appetizers, soups or salads, a main course, and dessert. During each course, have a different question for discussion. See our webstore for resources such as The Complete Book of Questions and Chat Packs. Some examples of questions are: "What are you "a natural" at doing? What is something you've always wanted to try, but still haven't?" "What is the most surprising thing that has happened in your life in the last decade?"

Accomplish a goal while having fun and getting to know people better. Make sure everyone works with at least one other person and have lots of good food available before, during, and/or after the work time. Suggestions for projects:
A work day at the home of a friend, family member, senior citizen, or someone in need. (Several years ago our church small group scheduled once a month workdays at each others' homes. Some of the tasks we accomplished were washing windows, cleaning out a basement, painting rooms & furniture, weeding, and washing patio furniture.)
Offer lessons in an area of expertise~ cooking, a craft such as stamping or scrapbooking, finessing Facebook (for people over 40), gardening, etc.
Create cards and/or "care packages" to send to servicemen, students, or missionaries away from home.

Choose a category of items and ask your guests to bring things that they no longer want or need. These could be books, women's or children's clothing or accessories, crafting supplies, games & toys, or white elephants. Put them on display and let everyone look over the "merchandise" while they have snacks and socialize. After that, give each guest an equal amount of play money, then conduct an auction to "sell" everything. Modeling and/or demonstrating the items will add to the fun.

Hiking, biking, skiing, sledding, ice-skating, roller-skating, bowling, kite-flying, swimming, volleyball, croquet, races, etc. Have food on site or meet at your home before or afterward for pizza, hot chocolate, or other goodies. You may need to check out options for locations, reservations, and equipment rentals.

These are becoming popular, especially at Christmas. There are even websites for finding second-hand ugly sweaters! Roll out a paper runway, then have a fashion show, complete with commentary. Encourage vogueing~ The more hamming it up, the better. Make sure you take lots of photos~ and share them on Facebook! This party could be a fun way to lift spirits on a cold dark January or February weekend. For other times of year, or in places like Florida or Hawaii, have an Ugly Hat, Socks, or T-Shirt party. You can also buy plain sweaters, socks, hats, or t-shirts at second-hand or dollar stores and let guests make their own Uglies using fabric markers and fabric glue & pins to attach faux gems, fabric cut-outs, pom-poms, etc.

The Chicago Tribune recently ran an article about creating your own Game Show nights at home. See: The article includes helpful hints for prizes and reviews of electronic and board home game versions of Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and four other games.

Invite several of your guests to cook up their best batch of chili, barbequed ribs, or spaghetti sauce. Have a blind taste test contest, awarding the winner with a special cook's apron to wear. (You can buy a plain apron at a craft store like Michael's and either decorate it yourself with the event, date, etc. or let the guests sign & write comments on it. Needless to say, guests will eat the samples. (You may wish to ask non-competing guests to bring side dishes, drinks, and desserts.)

When you plan a party, consider the purpose of your celebration. Be intentional ~ Good plans can help people interact more effectively and deeply, accomplish ministry, express love and honor to friends and family members, meaningfully celebrate an event, and establish and maintain traditions. Not to mention, have lots of fun!

We hope you'll share your ideas and experiences on our blog page

Most people do not think of having fondue except for parties or in special restaurants, but we think it can be a warm and fun experience for a family dinner or cozy evening snack.

Good Housekeeping's GREAT Recipe for Cheddar-Cheese Fondue

2 cups half-and-half
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 garlic clove, halved
1 1/2 lbs. mild or sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 6 cups)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
chunks of crusty French bread
apple slices cut with apple corer
chunks of ham

1. In fondue pot or saucepan over low heat, beat half-and-half, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and garlic, stirring, until hot but not boiling. Discard garlic.
2. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, toss cheddar cheese with flour until well mixed.
3. Gradually stir the cheese into the hot mixture with a fork or wire whisk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and mixture is smooth and bubbling. Add salt to taste. (If made in saucepan, pour into fondue pot for serving. Keep hot over low heat on fondue stand.)
4. Chunks of bread, fruit, and meat can be speared with wooden skewers and dipped into the fondue or you may spoon some of the fondue onto each person’s plate.

And... A Great Recipe for Chocolate Fondue

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated
6 ounces semisweet chocoate, grated
3/4 cup heavy cream

Slowly melt the chocolate on a low temperature, stirring consantly; then slowly and gently stir in the cream.

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Sensational Summer Ideas

The Fourth of July

Attend an Independence Day parade.

Wear red, white, & blue. (Let children decorate white t-shirts using red and blue fabric paint.)

Let children safely make fire-cracker type noises by popping the bubbles in strips of bubble wrap with big bubbles.
(We love doing this!)

Eat red, white, & blue foods~ Try blueberries, watermelon, apples, cherries, jello, popcorn, and marshmallows.

Make cupcakes using Pillsbury’s Stars & Stripes cake mix and Funfetti Frosting.

There’s a fun recipe for star cookies and one for popsicles using red Kool-aid, blue Kool-aide, whipped topping & yogurt on (The site also has crafts, games, and other ideas.)

MORE activities and games can be found on

Have children decorate with drawings of flags from different times in American history.

Create your own design for a flag to represent America. Explain the significance of each element.

Create and play a trivia game about interesting aspects of American history.
(There are trivia quizzes, as well as other ideas, on

Download patriotic songs for your iPod/mp3 player to play at your barbeque.
Some ideas: God Bless America, America the Beautiful, This Land is My Land, America Will Always Stand by Randy Travis, This Ragged Old Flag by Johnny Cash, You're A Grand Old Flag, Marine Hymn, Star and Stripes Forever and other marches by John Phillip Sousa, Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder, and of course The Star Spangled Banner

Read (or begin reading) a historical novel such as Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes or a picture book.
See for picture book suggestions.

Have your own Fourth of July parade on your block. Provide flags and crepe paper, balloons, foil ribbon, stars, etc. for kids to use in decorating their trikes & bikes and wagons. Have your parade marshal carry a boom box playing marching music and give walkers rhythm band instruments to keep time. Kick off the parade or celebrate the end of it with refreshments. You might want to expand the parade into a block party complete with games, contests, and a cook-out.

If your outdoor celebration gets rained out, watch a patriotic movie.
Some ideas: 1976 the Musical, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (with Jimmy Stewart), Apollo 13, Sergeant York, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Glory (violent), National Treasure, The Right Stuff, An American Tail, Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front, The Century: America's Time, This is America, Charlie Brown, The Crossing, Johnny Tremain
(Not all are appropriate for children.)

During breakfast, invite each person at the table to talk about something that they love about America.

"That's as American as apple pie." During lunch, go aournd the table and let each person name something that is as American as apple pie.

During grace, pray for our country and our leaders.

Before bed, take turns thanking God for ways that you are blessed by living in our country.

Choose a Goal for the Summer

Each family member can choose a personal goal, you can decide on a family goal, or do both.
Here are some suggestions:
Try a new food each week. Visit a local "Taste" event or small neighborhood ethnic restaurant.
Learn to cook something new. (Get a child's cookbook for the little ones.)
Invite a new person or family to your home for dinner or a game night each month.
Learn to swim or learn a new stroke, dive, etc.
Have a picnic or eat outside at least once a week.
Read 25 books or stories.
Organize your closet or all your drawers.
Walk down 25 different streets or blocks in your neighborhood.
Invite a group of friends or another family to walk or bike together at a regular time each week.
Earn & save money for a special outing at the end of the summer.
Acquire and play a new outdoor game like croquet, badminton, horseshoes, or bocce ball.

Our family loves bocce ball!

The Gift of a Day

Give your child, spouse, parent, sibling, or friend a certificate good for setting aside one “Your Day” this summer. Have sections on the certificate allowing them to choose their meals and activities. Promise that you will join in the activities of their choice or help them with work or projects they want to do. Make sure it is a chore-free day. You may want to offer a little shopping spree with a set spending limit, perhaps for new summer clothes. Download a “Your Day” certificate to print and use for children at

Something New

Do an outing you’ve never done before or go to a familiar place, but do something different there: Example: Go to the beach to build a giant sand castle together. Bring pails, shovels, forms for shapes, decorations—and your camera!


Plan a family, friends, or small group outreach project. It can be simple-- Go to grandma's (or another senior citizen's) house and spend an afternoon helping with tasks like window washing, cleaning, or gardening. Volunteer to make snacks for your church's VBS program. Go around your block with a garbage bag and pick up litter. Give a busy mom a day off by volunteering to take her child(ren) to the beach, museum, zoo, etc.

Silly Shopping

Take a group of children to a dollar store, second hand store, or Salvation Army / Goodwill store. Give them $5. each and encourage them to find the most fun and unique gifts they can .When you get home, wrap and deliver or mail the items to recipients of their choice


Provide your children with spiral notebooks. (Get some with fun covers or have them decorate them.) Write a question at the top of each page and have them answer it before they go to bed each night. Ask them to write at least three sentences describing, explaining, or giving examples of their answer. (This could also be done by e-mail.) For pre-schoolers, questions like these could be discussed at dinner or bedtime. Suggested questions are listed below. You could also use ChatPack (Available on our online store) for more questions:

What was the best idea you had today?
What would be your dream vacation?
What is your favorite kind of music? How would you describe it to someone who had never heard it?
On July 4th: What are you most thankful for or proud of when you think about our country?
What is the most fun thing you've ever done in your back yard?
What do you most like about your best friend?
What was the best thing that happened to you today?
What was the funniest thing you heard today?
What was the yummiest thing you ate?— Try to describe it so that someone who has never tasted it might be able to imagine it.
Who was the most interesting person you talked to today?
What was the most beautiful thing you saw today?
What did you thank God for today?

Write a few encouraging comments on the bottom of the page. “I’m glad I was there to share that with you.” “That sounds so interesting, I’d like to hear more about it!” “Your description of that S’more was so vivid that I can feel the marshmallow melting in my mouth!” “I am glad you enjoyed meeting Mrs. Smith. She is one of my favorite people.”

This kind of journaling will accomplish many goals.
1. It will keep your children writing. One of the hardest parts of writing for kids is getting started. You will get them past the “I can’t think of anything to write about.” barrier. Answering questions is easy and can become a habit.
2. It will help your children learn to reflect on their lives, behavior, God’s working and creation. Your questions should help them grow in the ability to express their feelings.
3. It will help you to know more about what your children are thinking and give you the opportunity respond in a thoughtful, nurturing, constructive way.


Another good writing option is to write letters (and/or postcards) to grandparents, cousins, friends, missionaries, authors and illustrators of books you read, or soldiers overseas. Children who are too young to write can dictate letters and then illustrate or decorate them.

A Summer Theme

Choose something that interests your child(ren). Possible topics are bugs, cooking, kites, fish, bikes, the ocean, rockets, dolls, cars, rocks or gems, paper or fiber art, and gardening. Make it a theme for a day, a week, a month, or the summer. Read books about it, both factual and fiction. If appropriate, create a model of an object related to the theme. Do art projects (consider making jewelry, mobiles, books, postcards to send, sculptures, and t-shirts). Take field trips. Below are some ideas of how to do this with the topic of frogs & toads.

Frog & Toads Theme

Read stories from the Frog & Toad series of books by Arnold Lobel – Great for ALL ages!

Available on Amazon at

Read about the role of frogs in the story of the Israelites in Egypt. (See Exodus 8:1-15)

Make origami or clay frogs, Paint pictures of frogs.

Collect inanimate frogs— plastic, china, stuffed, etc. You can find them at garage sales, flee markets, dollar stores, etc.
Once people know you are collecting them, you might also receive more than you know what to do with!

If you live in the county or near a river or woods, take a walk and look for toads – Consider adopting a frog or toad as a pet.
(See for information about frog care.)

Learn the traditional song Froggy Went a Courtin’
(Words & a Bob Dylan arrangement of music available on the website:

Do a virtual frog dissection on the website
It's also a great place to find many other ideas and frog-related computer resources—screen savers, games, etc.

Watch a Kermit video, then write and perform your own short play using homemade frog puppets.
(You can make a simple puppet by using a pair of dyed green socks with big buttons for eyes.)

Each person write and/or learn a frog or toad poem.

Have a Green Day in honor of frogs & toads~ Wear green clothing & accessories, eat green foods & drink green drinks, fingerpaint with green paint or play with green play dough, play in the green grass.

Chicago Theme ~ For Anyone Who Lives Near or Plans to Visit Chicago
(Many of these ideas can be applied to other cities.)

Visit the Chicago History Museum (Free on Mondays and free for children under the age of 12)

Online activities: pictures, trivia games, maps, information

Visit neighborhood festivals~ Learn about the ethnic groups living in different communities

Transportation: Take a tour using the el, Metra train, bus, cab, taxi boat, pedicab, and if you want to make it a very special event and can afford it~ a horse-drawn carriage ride or double-decker bus.

Learn about Chicago’s flag, then design your own

Create a Chicago coffee table book using your own photos and commentary.

Focus on one area & aspect such as:
Art (Focus on a Chicago artist or thoroughly explore the Art Institute with multiple visits)
Food (Trying a different kind of Chicago pizza each week?)
Music (There are lots of free outdoor concerts!)
History (Choose a time or event such as the Chicago Fire or Chicago World’s Fair.)
Architecture (Explore one style or architect such as Frank Lloyd Wright)
Science & nature (Rivers & Lakes could include beach trips & boat rides.)
Sports history and teams (Choose a particular team.)
Geography/neighborhoods (Visit and map one.)

Doing a “Staycation” this year? Buy a Citipass. Adults/$69 Children/$59 Valid for 9 days
Good for: Shedd Aquariuam VIP, Field Museum & Underground Adventure, Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science & Industry & Omnimax, John Hancock Observatory Fast Pass OR Sears Tower Skydeck Fast Pass

Visit to check out these tags for links to good websites:.
Summer, Summer2010, Chicago, ChicagoHistory, and Families

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