The presents were all unwrapped with glee, the toys played with (for a little while at least) and the stockings have been raided. The kids are getting antsy and you’ve already heard the “B” word — “I’m bored.” Don’t despair. The period between Christmas and the return to school after New Year’s can be a great time for family outings and family bonding.
1. Reconnect with an old friend — your local library. The library’s not just for books anymore. It offers so many things, from computer classes to DVDs, that you can check out. And most of them are free.
2. Plot a garden. If the seed catalogs haven’t already arrived, they’re on their way. You don’t have to wait until you have the booklet in hand to start planting your spring garden. Whether you’re into flowers or veggies or both, you can get lots of ideas on the Internet. And with the kids in on the planning, they’re more likely to actually eat a veggie — when it’s harvested from their own plot of land. Check out how make the most of your garden’s harvest.
3. Check out a new neighborhood. Even if the weather is chilly, having a little time on your hands presents a perfect opportunity to scout out an area of your community with which you’re not familiar.
4. “Visit” another country. This great family activity can be done without spending a lot of money. Research a country together (the Internet makes it easy) and then have a discussion on what each of you has learned. Or each family member can research a different country and share what he or she has learned. For added fun, plan a dinner with foods and recipes from the country you’re exploring, make a craft or learn a song or game from that country.
5. Plan a camping trip. There’s nothing like winter (and the attendant bad weather in some part of the country) to make your thoughts wander to those sweet summer days when you can hike, swim and sleep under the stars with nary a thought about work or school. Get out the maps (yes, the paper ones) and start dreaming.
6. Park it. Explore a park you’ve never visited. The trees may not have any leaves, but there are usually plenty of interesting things to see and do. With bare trees, it’s a great time to take up bird-watching. Go to this National Zoo site to discover the songs of North American birds.
7. Plot a frugal future. Whether we go off the financial cliff or not, there’s no time like the present to be thinking about the future. Assess your financial habits and determine how you can cut routine expenses and maybe even put a little money aside during the coming year. Let the kids come up with some ideas of their own. Create a new savings account for holiday spending, and set up an automatic deduction from your paycheck or your bank account.
8. Learn a new skill. Few things make time pass as quickly as learning a new skill. You don’t have to spend money on classes, either. The Internet offers endless possibilities. Learn to make towel animals, knit a scarf, or make a new recipe.
9. Frame the fleeting year. Do you take a lot of pictures of family and the places you visit? The kids will enjoy looking at what they were doing during the past months. Take this time to organize your photos. If you have prints, sort, label and put them into albums. If you have digital images on your computer, sort them, decide which ones you want to print (take advantage of the many sales on prints after Christmas) and store the ones you want to keep on a memory stick or external hard drive to free up space on your computer’s hard drive.
10. Start a scrapbook. If you’re the kind of person who saves ticket stubs, printed programs from events and other ephemera, gather it all up and mount it in a scrapbook. You needn’t spend a lot of money on a fancy scrapbook. A looseleaf binder filled with recycled paper works.
11. Strategize next year’s holidays. Sit down with the kids and review the activities your family participated in this month. What was the most fun? What was maybe more trouble than it was worth? What would be fun to try next year? Check out your ornaments, too, and determine if you need to add more next year — and which kind they should be.
12. Reconnect with a name from the past. Have you ever wondered what happened to what’s-her-name from high school? How about that person from your past who changed the course of your life by offering age advice? Go online and play sleuth and you just might find out what did happen to her.
13. Jump into genealogy. The holidays bring up old memories and traditions. We wonder about our grandparents or the countries of their birth. Maybe this is the time to start researching the family tree. There are a lot of resources online — some free and some not. And, of course, you might start at your local library.
14. Get on top of tax day. If you’re a real glutton for punishment, gather up all your receipts and start getting things in shape for filing your tax return. Start by organizing those piles of receipts, add up mileage and other deductions, and gather statements from banks and investment companies.
15. Rearrange the furniture. When boredom sets in and all else fails, opt for the ultimate try-something-new freebie. Or switch out the contents of the kitchen cabinets. If you don’t feel that ambitious, start with one cluttered drawer.
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