Families get creative with fun to beat dull, frigid winters

It's 5:30 p.m. as a mother " fighting biting-cold winds" leaves her job for the day. The sun is but a faint blue glow in the horizon. By the time she arrives home, the sky is black. She opens the door and steps through a maze of coats, hats and gloves to find her children lazily engaged in TV-watching or Web site-browsing. It's been a long, cold week, and a weekend of pajama-wearing and movie-viewing beckons.

Get creative
Get generous
Get physical

As tempting as it sounds, it's not an ideal habit for families to engage in all winter. There are ways you and yours can battle the frosty blues.

Get creative

Whether embarking on a new hobby project or setting up tents in the living room, families can find creative ways to spend time together at home. During the holidays, Amy Hough of Norman hits up craft stores in search of new projects to try with her two daughters, on bad winter-weather days. The single parent began this tradition when she returned to college five years ago.

"I am so busy that I actually schedule quality time with the girls to ensure that I maximize our time together," said Hough, now in graduate school. Projects the Houghs have delved into include painting rocks, making ornaments, baking and decorating sugar cookies, and writing and illustrating books.

Hough suggests families buy craft supplies on clearance or use odds and ends found around the house, such as leftover wood from a remodeling project, unused wrapping paper and empty cans.

If your family doesn't fancy artsy stuff, perhaps a night of indoor camping or adventurous eating will suffice. For Valentine's Day last year, Crystal Buchanan of Midwest City planned a night of grandeur for her three children and her fiancé's three children. She planned a candlelit dinner of Italian cuisine and served sparkling grape juice in red-glitter plastic wineglasses. Dessert was made of chocolate bowls (created by dipping small balloons into melted chocolate and cooling) filled with raspberry sherbet and topped with frozen  raspberries.

"After dinner, we played a variety of games together as a family," Buchanan said. "With six children, we were able to divide into teams to play charades and a Pictionary-type game. Then we turned the lights out and played a version of hide-and-seek called sardines. I think this night helped to form a great bond in our blended family."

For a more casual route, parents can opt for a living-room campout, like the Koepkes of Oklahoma City chose to do during a winter storm.

"We put blankets in front of the fireplace when we had no power and sat in a circle, passed a flashlight around and took turns telling ghost stories," said Moriah Koepke, a mother of three.
To create a more authentic campout experience, Whitney Hanke, a Midwest City mother of two, suggests pitching a small tent inside and making s'mores.

Get generous

Some families may prefer to bond through volunteerism. The Oklahoma City Ronald McDonald House welcomes families with older children to assist in a variety of activities, from groundskeeping to cleaning and cooking, said house manager Lisa Jones.

The meals program is a popular activity for many groups. A family of eight or fewer can choose an evening to cook and serve a meal for 25 to 30 guests at the charity house, which has a double kitchen that is stocked with all the needed cookware and utensils. Children younger than 16 are not permitted in the kitchen, but may remain in the dining area while adults prepare the meal, Jones said.

For a calendar of available evenings, visit www.rmhokc.org. To schedule a meal, call 424-6874.

Families also can check with local churches or community centers for other philanthropic options. Many have a list of groups in need of assistance. The Leachmans, a family of six in Moore, have spent time at a local nursing home through a program at their church.

"I like volunteering with my family because it's something we can do together without fighting," Olivia Leachman,13, said. "When we're at home, we all go our separate ways the majority of the time. When we're at the nursing home, we do it together, and we're making people happy doing it."

Get physical

Craving a fun game of volleyball or basketball? A handful of local colleges and churches have indoor public courts. Last month, a group of extended family and friends congregated for an afternoon of volleyball at First Baptist Church of Moore's recreation center.

The group gathered to celebrate a birthday. While kids played with balls on an adjacent court, older spectators sat on bleachers to cheer the volleyball players.

"I thought the volleyball game was a unique and fun thing to do for an adult birthday event. Everybody got involved and had a great time, players and viewers alike," said player Chris Campbell of Oklahoma City.

First Baptist also offers two racquetball courts, among other fitness amenities, for free during facility hours. Private parties may rent the center on weekends for $75 per hour. For more information, call 735-2527 or visit www.fbcmoore.org/recreation.

Other locations allow public use of their volleyball and basketball courts. Oklahoma City Community College's Wellness Center is $6 per person per day for nonmembers. Call 682-1611 or visit www.occc.edu/rf. Quail Springs Baptist Church also opens its gym, called the 146 Fitness and Recreation Center, for a $5 monthly membership per person. For more information, call the center at 752-2965 or visit 146recreation.com. "Elizabeth Camacho Wiley

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