Fun is Where You Find It (Part 7)

The Fun is Where You Find It series of posts is one of the more popular series I’ve created because they all talk about fun things you can do for little or no cost. Of course, the problem that most people are facing right now is some sort of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) mixed with negative feelings about the weather and a general letdown from the holidays. Fortunately, there are a lot of fixes for these issues—all of which hinge on focusing on anything else.

I use a lot of laugh therapy to get past this time of year. Generally speaking, laugh therapy is all about getting a good laugh in every day. You can get the laugh any way that works for you, but I’ll read something funny, view funny videos, or talk with a friend who knows good jokes (not the lame sort that I usually tell). There are even books about laugh therapy if you have problems figuring out how to get a good laugh on your own.

This past Sunday I decided to approach the problem from another angle. I have a number of items that need to be used up, so I decided to use them for a picnic. No, the picnic isn’t outside in the cold. Instead, I put together potato salad, fruit salad, fried chicken, chips, and drinks. I laid a blanket out on the floor in front of my wood stove (which is standing in for the hot summer sun) and watched a summery movie. The whole thing cost me about $5.00, so were not talking a major entertainment expense for several hours of fun.

Of course, the question is whether my little experiment worked. Overall, I felt pretty happy afterward—it was a lot of fun and I plan to do it again. Doing something completely different, something outside the range of normal winter activities, helped me get past some of the usual problems associated with winter by thinking about summer and picnics instead. A lot of the time, how we approach life and what we think about controls our mood, so thinking about summer and picnics in winter is possibly every bit as good as the laugh therapy I normally use. At least, it gives me another alternative.

What sorts of amazing things are you doing to fight the winter blahs? Do you think you might ever try a winter picnic to chase the blues away? Let me know your thoughts about winter fun at


Fun is Where You Find It! (Part 4)

For many people, this time of the year is extremely depressing. There are all sorts of acronyms associated with this time of the year, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I have no doubt that these disorders, diseases, and disabilities all exist and are quantifiable in some way. In fact, I imagine that there are tests to determine precisely which of them you have and to what extent you suffer from them. The bottom line is that the holidays are over, the weather is stormy, and the budget tight. Excitement is nowhere to be found—at least, not the sort of excitement that many people consider fun today.

It’s this time of year when Rebecca and I engage most strongly in crafting. Making things tends to take your mind off of all of the things that would make you SAD. For example, this is the time of year that I make knitted items most. A craft need not be expensive or require skills that most people lack. I’ve known more than a few families who have gathered pine cones in the fall, drizzled a bit of glue on them, dipped them in glitter, and added a bit of yarn to string the pine cones up. Not only do them make attractive Christmas ornaments, you can hang them up in a room as decoration. The cheerful colors and the occasional glint of the sun dancing off the glitter can dispel the gloom in any room. Stenciling and other forms of decorative art are helpful this time of the year as well. I got the idea for bright colors in a room from some of the displays in European Village at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Old world houses weren’t drabthey were colorful to keep things cheery during the winter months. This form of decoration improves your ability to withstand the drab winter months and could very well help keep SAD at bay.  The best part of all is that you can get the supplies for any of the crafts I’ve mentioned for less than $20.00 and some, like stenciling, can consume an inordinate amount of time that you’d otherwise spend feeling bad.

Of course, not everyone likes crafts and I wouldn’t want you to saddle yourself with something that you won’t ever enjoy (no matter how hard you try). This is also a good time of the year to take a winter walk. Wait for a nice day and go into the woods. The woods are amazing this time of the year and if you’re careful, you’ll see some interesting animals, such as a fox or weasel. You have to look extra hard in some cases. Some animals change color in the winter to better blend in with their environment. A white rabbit on white snow is incredibly hard to see.

So, you’re not into the outdoors and crafts have no interest. There are still things you can do to make this time of the year better. Some people live for sports. The Superbowl takes place in two weeks. Personally, I’m not much of a sports fan. In fact, I just barely know the names of our teams here in Wisconsin (much less the rest of the country). However, I do like action movies, so we have a Super Action Hero Bowl on Superbowl Sunday. Here are the steps for creating your own Super Action Hero Bowl:


  1. Create a list of the action heroes that appear in your movie collection (or that you know you can borrow free from somewhere like the library).
  2. Place the names in a hat and have someone draw four or five names.
  3. Create lists of the movies that you own for each action hero.
  4. Place the movies for a specific hero in the hat and draw out the name of a movie for that hero.
  5. Create movie lists and draw a movie name for each of the remaining heroes.
  6. Now that you have a list of names and movies, create a scorecard. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but each member of the family who participates in Super Action Hero Bowl should have a separate scorecard.
  7. Watch the first movie on the scorecard and mark that movie’s rank. Each movie should be ranked from 1 to 4 (or 5, depending on how many movies you choose). No two movies should receive the same score. (No peaking at your neighbor’s scorecard please!)
  8. Continue watching movies until you have completed them all.
  9. Tally the scores from each of the scorecards for each movie. The movie with the lowest score (the highest rank) wins.

It’s a good way to spend a day in family fun. It’s inexpensive and the competition adds a certain appeal to the event. Of course, just like the Superbowl, you can grab some special foods from your larder and serve them during the course of the day.

Just because the holidays are over, doesn’t mean you have to make things drab. Rebecca and i usually store some special goodies in the larder for this time of the year. When there is something to celebrate, we make an impromptu personal party using these items. We’ll play games, listen to special music, put puzzles together, or do other things to make the event special. Get a good report from the doctor? Why not have a party to celebrate it? It takes a little effort to avert the drudgery of this time of the year, but you can do it and it doesn’t have to cost a lot (or anything at all).

How do you avoid the January blues? Do you like crafts, a bit of nature, some mild competitive fun, or a bit of a party? Let me know at Make sure you also view the other Fun is Where You Find It posts for other ideas.


Review of John Sloane’s Puzzle, Ripe and Ready

We usually don’t have a lot of dedicated time during the Christmas holidays. There is an hour here and a half hour there to have bits of fun between family visits, church, and addressing other needs. Consequently, we looked for a somewhat easier puzzle to work on during the recent Christmas holiday, Ripe and Ready by John Sloane.

This is a 500 piece puzzle. The pieces are relatively large, so they’d be easy for most people to work with. The puzzle box states that the puzzle is suitable for anyone ages 13 and up. I think someone even a little younger could probably work on the puzzle with help. Unlike one or two other puzzles we’ve purchased from Bits and Pieces, this puzzle has pieces with a substantial feel and we didn’t have any trouble with the art coming apart from the puzzle base as we had with one other puzzle we worked on from the company.

The puzzle itself is beautifully rendered. The use of color tends to make the puzzle easier to work on because some colors are definitely found only in one section of the puzzle. However, the completed puzzle is nice to look at and I would imagine that some people will make it into a wall hanging using a product such as Mod Podge. The puzzle pieces work well for making the puzzle into a wall hanging. They interlock well, making it possible to transfer the puzzle (with care) to a base for gluing.

Most puzzles have some sort of trick that provides a challenge. In this case, the puzzle makes a number of the pieces look like edge pieces, even though they’re supposed to go into the middle of the puzzle. Normally, we try to get all of the edge pieces together, create a border using them, and then work on the inner parts of the puzzle. That strategy didn’t work in this case because we truly couldn’t tell which pieces were supposed to go at the edge. I won’t ruin the puzzle by telling you what strategy did work .

Overall, this is an easy puzzle that works well for times when you don’t want too much of a challenge. It would be a good puzzle for beginners or for a rainy afternoon. We spent a total of eight hours putting the puzzle together. If we had sat down and worked on it continuously, I imagine we would have put it together much faster.


Fun is Where You Find It! (Part 2)

One of my more popular previous posts is Fun is Where You Find It! In this post, I suggested that family crafting can provide a source of cheap entertainment. Finding crafting activities that the entire family can enjoy is productive from a number of perspectives, not the least of which is promoting communication between family members. Of course, not every activity has to be craft related. Every year Rebecca and I put together a number of jigsaw puzzles. They’re inexpensive, require a few hours to complete as a minimum, and also promote communication. We discuss all sorts of things while putting our puzzles together.

Some of the jigsaw puzzles we’ve done are quite exotic. We put one together that glows in the dark and some are works of art that we’ve displayed for weeks on the dining room table before begrudgingly packing it away. A few have been oddly shaped or had other special features. In a few cases, we’ve even discussed using Mod Podge to preserve our treasure for all time, but have never quite made it to that point. Should we ever decide to do so, we could easily frame our treasure for everyone to see. Given the number of puzzles we do though, it’s unlikely that any particular puzzle will prove so spectacular that we’ll actually go this extra step.

One of the complaints about jigsaw puzzles is that they’re boring. In order to make the jigsaw puzzle interesting, it has to have a twist. The glow in the dark puzzle offered such a twist, but it was probably more complex than the average family would want to do and the subject matter was along the lines of a Gothic image that many people would dislike (it was of several women walking through a medieval forest at night to a party of some sort). Families will also want to avoid the double-sided and 3D puzzles because they can prove difficult to complete. However, a puzzle we just completed could prove interesting to quite a few people, Murder at Bedford Manor. You put the puzzle together, read an associated booklet that contains the basic story, and then look at the completed puzzle for clues as to who committed the murder.

The puzzle took about 22 hours for two people to complete and solving the murder required another 3 hours, for a total of 25 hours of fun for the low cost of $26.00. Where else can you entertain two people for 25 hours at a little over $1.00 an hour? We actually worked on a 1,000 piece version of the puzzle, but the 500 piece version will probably work better with a family that has younger children with shorter attention spans. The point is that you need not spend vast sums to have funa good time can be had for just a few dollars, which is perfect for the self-sufficient family on a budget. What is your favorite jigsaw puzzle? Let me know at