Snow fell in Chicagoland about a month ago, but then disappeared. There was no white Christmas. It rained on New Year’s day, enough that the water pooled in some areas (including our basement…) But today, a light snow has been falling since this morning: crisp, pristine, and accumulating.

My 9-year-old and 6-year-old have never been much for outdoor, so the idea of putting on winter gear and playing in the snow had zero appeal to them. They both thought it looked beautiful, but admired it from the distance inside the warmth of our house.

I did play outside as a kid, but I lived in the country with a wide expanse of space and freedom. On a wintery day like this, I had surrounding hills that were perfect for sledding. And when out of energy, soaked through, and red-cheeked, I could return indoors and warm by the woodstove. Radiant heat is perfection.

At the same time, I don’t remember spending entire days outside. For winter break, or long summers of no school, I recently found myself wondering what I did to pass the time. As a full-time working parent, I send my kids to full-day camps when possible, but this year the winter break back-to-school day was a Tuesday, leaving us to entertain ourselves on Monday. On days like this or weekends, our “screen time” is designated times of the day, which are well-known and strictly enforced, leaving a large amount of time to fill in the middle and children that have no affinity for being outside.

It was a Christmas gift that I received this year that reminded me of something I adored as a child. My brother and sister-in-law got me an adult paint-by-number set. Instantly, I remembered sitting in the kitchen of the farmhouse that I grew up in, with my sister. We would spent hot summers at that kitchen table, either with a paint-by-number or a puzzle, listening to a “book on cassette” from the library. I remember intently bending over my projects at the table, while simultaneously hooked on whatever book we were listening to.

My kiddos love to create things. Their drawings are scattered about the house. And as I remembered how much I loved that time spent at my kitchen table growing up, I figured that I could create a similar environment at home. Well, the environment already exists, but make it a more dedicated space and allow time for me to be creative as well. Our “snow day” was a perfect opportunity.

While my 17-month-old and husband napped (both recovering from a virus this week), it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I told my kids it was “creative time.” I pulled out a stack of magazines, including Highlights and National Geographic (both of which we subscribe) and Popular Science (somehow receiving for free?!) along with some composition notebooks and I told them that we were making collages. The 6-year-old asked if he could paint instead, and I told him “of course.” The result was that the 9-year-old drew Pokemon in his notebook. The 6-year-old painted the outside winter wonderland scene. And I created a collage of photos and words (poem?) from National Geographic.

We have a fairly regimented “quiet time” in our house from roughly 1:00 pm — 3:00 pm on weekends, in which everyone retreats to his or her room for either napping, reading, or doing something else quietly. After that time, I channeled the other love of my youth: a puzzle and audiobook.

I should preface with: my kids love Audiobooks. They both have Echo Dots in their rooms and access to our Audible account. Favorites have been all of the Harry Potter books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Charlotte’s Web.

So for the time between “quiet time” and “screen time” in our afternoon, it was Puzzle and Audiobook time.

The older kids brought up two puzzles: 100 pieces and 150 pieces. They worked together on assembly while listening to Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. As an avid reader, this is a new book even for me. The 17-month-old sat in her booster seat with a simple puzzle on her tray. I sat at the kitchen table, watching my three kiddos work on their puzzles, with a glass of sauvignon blanc, writing this.

An afternoon well spent.

To read the writing that I do about pregnancy loss and grief, you can head over to my blog, Grieving Out Loud. You can follow the creative endeavors of our family on Instagram @creativeyangout.

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