If things are so hectic in your household that you can't remember the last time you took time out for some family fun, you need to remind yourself about the importance of scheduling. Time is like money. If you wait until you have some left over, you may wait for a very long time.
Once an event is marked on the calendar, you will find yourself scheduling around that, not crossing it out. If you don't have a family calendar, make one up that covers at least the next three months. Post it in a visible place so all family members can see it, even the little people. Make it colorful and exciting.
Carve at least three blocks of time from those 90 days and mark "Family Fun" in big, bright letters.
Now that it's on the calendar, you need to make some plans. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money to create wonderful times together.
One idea that appeals to all ages is stargazing, discovering the stories of the sky. You will need to do some homework for this event. Take a trip to the library or look on the Internet for sites like www.DomeOfTheSky.com where you will find lots of stories and sky facts.
Start with the Big and Little Dippers, which are parts of two larger constellations known as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. The dippers, which look like ladles in the sky, are good reference points for the other constellations. First locate the Big Dipper. The two stars on the outside of its ladle also are called the Pointers. Follow a straight line from the Pointers upward out from the ladle to the North Star.
Tell your kids the stories; point out other constellations. Make up your own stories. Enjoy the solitude, the feelings of being together under such an amazing canopy of nighttime majesty.
You can view many of the stars from your yard, or a safe park or rooftop if you're in a city - just avoid houses and streetlights, if possible. If you have access to a safe country location, your results will be even better. You'll notice that more stars become visible while you wait the half-hour that it takes for your eyes to fully adjust. The darker the better for successful stargazing.
Of course, you'll need to put together some equipment for your night with the stars. Begin with a big blanket, flashlights and hot chocolate. Background music is important, so bring a portable player. If you can find it, "Starwatching" by The Happy Crowd (www.happycrowd.com) is perfect: "What a beautiful sight ... We put our blanket out on the lawn ... and we're star watching, what a beautiful night!"
Bring notebooks so you can record each constellation you find, noting the date, time, weather and any other important observations. With any luck, you'll have such a great time you'll want to repeat this family outing. The more nights you spend exploring the skies, the more you'll find up there.
Mary Hunt is the creator of The Cheapskate Monthly newsletter, which can be ordered online at www.cheapskatemonthly.com/um. You can e-mail questions or tips at email@example.com or Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135 Paramount, CA 90723. All correspondence becomes the property of Cheapskate Monthly.