Why we need rituals


tree blazeRituals are often thought of as familiar ceremonies like baptisms, weddings, and funerals. But I like the idea that any act or symbolic behavior, when performed regularly, can be called a ritual.

Rituals can be as simple as walking the dog, making coffee, playing a game, or writing in a journal. You can share a ritual with others or alone, in a special place or out in the open. The point is you can choose something, anything and declare the time spent holy.

Rituals are not just abstract ideas or expressions; they affect your world. 

Several years ago, I participated in a discussion course from Northwest Earth Institute with a group of women called Healthy Children Healthy Planet. We didn’t know each other. We were mothers who came from different backgrounds, religions, and ideologies. Some of us were working moms, others stayed at home. We were vegan, vegetarian, and omnivores. We acknowledged that we didn’t have all the answers, but we were willing to come together, open up, and listen. The weekly discussions enriched my life. And our conversations opened my eyes to new possibilities, especially when it came to rituals.

Incorporating rituals and celebrations into daily family life can be enriching. 

I think families, especially, can get the simple acts in life that are the most important rituals to us. I learned from my group discussions that I could take the most mundane rite or task in my life and make it more meaningful just by giving it presence of mind. After reading several articles on family rituals and celebrations, I considered the acts I performed regularly. Writing and snuggling with James came easily to mind. When James was a toddler, he would awake around 7 a.m., stumble into my upstairs office where I had been writing since 5 a.m., and climb into my lap. Together we snuggled for several minutes. James expected me to be there every morning at my desk writing – and I was. Those precious moments became a ritual for us.

The women in my group also shared their rituals, from game night, to telling stories in Spanish, and to having a “beast feast” (feeding the animals at Thanksgiving, instead of eating the animals).

“Anything can be a ritual if the family puts energy into making it meaningful. Ritual sanctifies time.” – Mary Pipher, author of “The Shelter of Each Other”

I realized that I had performed more rituals than I thought: having picnics in the family room with silly food, building a plastic animal zoo, chasing James around the house to catch and tickle him, and singing and dancing along to the “Bare Necessities” song from Disney’s “Jungle Book.”

I tried a few new rituals at home such as lighting a candle at dinner and then blowing it out and sharing what we were thankful for. James liked the candle-at-dinner ritual because it reminded him of birthday parties – without the presents.

Happy rituals make us happy.

I learned that all the rituals the women in my group shared were simple, meaningful, and connective. Performing rituals seemed to bring us happiness, and many everyday rituals are surprisingly effective.

Now that he’s 12, James doesn’t climb into my lap anymore, but when he’s willing, we snuggle on the couch or big chair to read together, or watch a movie. And James still likes me to chase him around the house with my minion Beck to capture, tackle, and tickle him. It lets us unwind from our day, and makes us happy.

Which rituals work best? 

It depends on you. Exploring a variety of rituals, and examining alternatives to elaborate celebrations and gifts can enrich a family’s experience. We can get happy by simply spending meaningful time with ourselves and our family.

What’s your ritual? Why do you need it? Why do you think it works? 

Thanks for reading. If you like this post, please feel free to share it with your friends or send me a comment. You can also post a comment on my blog or Facebook.

Adios Granada

Pilgrimage to Alhambra


Aside from fútbol, our visit to Granada, Spain would have been incomplete without touring the spectacular Alhambra. The Alhambra, I learned, is a vast complex of palaces and military fortresses built by Arabian royalty from the 9th through 14th century to establish the Kingdom of Granada. Walking along the corridors and pathways, in the footsteps of rulers from long ago, me and my fellow pilgrims were treated to a visual feast of artisan work or “fairy hands.” Hand-detailed mosaics, geometric tiles, and carved wooden inlays rolled into a series of patios, fountains, courts, and chambers, and made us stop in awe of it all. I think my family’s favorite part of the Alhambra was the Torre de la Vela (watchtower). There we saw one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada and city of Granada, including the Albayzin – a maze of narrow, winding streets that hail from Granada’s Medieval Moorish past.


It’s said that Granada stole the heart of legendary author, Washington Irving. Irving was so enamored and inspired by the Alhambra, where he lived for several months in 1829 that he wrote “Tales of the Alhambra.” Part history, part legend, Irving lived in the middle of an Arabian tale where he cut himself off from every day life to drink in “proud-spirited, romantic Spain; where the old magnificent barbaric spirit still contends against the utilitarianism of modern civilization.” A tribute to Irving can be found along the emerald and stone path ascending to the Alhambra.

Sweet and Savory Streets

me maca and lara

To eat when we were hungry in Granada, we only had to follow our noses. Andalusian cuisine is influenced by the rural and coastal regions. Smells of fresh baked bread, empanadas, and other delicious pastries wafted from open bakery doors. At lunch time, which is around 3 pm, we could smell savory dishes since the Spaniards use lots of olive oil to cook with. Common dishes are fried fish, “pescaito frito.” cold soups like salmorejo, and a mixture of fried eggs, meats and potatoes. I loved Tapas. Whenever you order a wine or cerveza, you get Tapas, or small meals to share with your companions. And, I can’t ever forget about ham. Spanish love ham, especially the cured Serrano Ham. Ham was everywhere; which can make it tough for a vegetarian like me. So, what did I eat? It’s surprisingly easy to stick with a vegetarian diet and I snacked on the most delicious tasting olives I’ve ever eaten. However, I opted to fall off the wagon to sample what our Spanish hosts offered for meals (in moderation, of course). One night led the grown ups to a butcher shop named “Dame Jamon.” Translated it means: Give me ham! When in Spain, I think one should experience it all. Except the pulpo (octopus). I don’t do pulpo. Ah well!

In the Albayzin with a view of the Alhambra.

In the Albayzin with a view of the Alhambra.

Sierra Nevada (photo)
We drove up the winding roads to the Sierra Nevada. Our destination was to tour a professional sports training facility – best in class at 2300 meters.

Fútbol. Always Fútbol

Team Granada

Team Granada

Aqui! Aqui! The words most often spoken during practice was acqui or here. I observed the Spaniards training to keep the ball, protect the ball, and put pressure on other players. Our boys had very good technical skills and were confident in their ability to play with other boys. Having self confidence seems to go hand-in-hand with keeping up with the intensity of the game. Above all else, the lesson is to have fun.

Malaga Club de Fútbol
Our two aspiring fútbol players flanked by their Spanish coaches Antonio and David (also American) and Malaga Club de Fútbol head of scout Adrian. Perhaps a good Omen?


We visited La Roseleda stadium in Malaga for a personal tour. Following that the boys practiced with Malaga’s youth academy team. We ended the evening watching a fútbol game between Malaga and Betis.

Street Fútbol or Pelada


Hanging out on the street. He's the real deal.

Hanging out on the street. He’s the real deal.

Our amigos were always patient and courteous, greeting us by either shaking hands, or kissing on both cheeks. And friends of our friends did the same. We were always greeted hello and said good-bye to when ready to leave. The Spaniards value politeness, and although they might walk right into you, they will apologize. I think most liked it when we attempted to speak Spanish even if it was limited.

Treasured Moments


James and Noah playing with Antonio and Maca’s son Nacho, who has special needs.


Drinking coffee on the terrace of our friends apartment was just one of the treasured moments I had in Granada. Words can only help tell pieces of the story of what I experienced in this Andalusian town.

Just as Granada stole Irving’s heart, Granada has stolen my heart. I have seen, felt, smelled, tasted, and touched this beautiful culture, rich with history. Adios Granada. I’ll be back.

The rain in Spain

Spanish Federation museumThe rain in Spain, I learned does not fall mainly on the plain, but in the northern mountains. And while I felt a little like Eliza in the musical “My Fair Lady” trying desperately to lose my American accent by practicing Spanish speech exercises, I learned that it doesn’t really matter. Upon arriving in Spain a few days ago, our Spanish friends (who also spoke English) made me and my family feel more than welcome. They made our trip to Spain feel like home.

And we’ve only just begun.

Before we traveled four hours to Granada from Madrid on our first day in Spain, the Spaniards had a surprise for us. My 12 year-old son James is a huge European futbol (soccer) fan. So when our friends pulled some strings to get us a personal tour of Ciudad del Futbol(Football City) – a sports complex that serves as the headquarters of the Royal Spanish Football Federation – my son couldn’t stop smiling. Even this non-soccer mom realized what an amazing and rare experience this was. To tour the training fields of the Spanish national team, and tour the museum where the shirts of legendary players and the 2010 World Cup was “pretty cool,” according to James. Even better was to shake hands with Vicente del Bosque, head coach of the Spanish national football team and hero to all of Spain and beyond. If that wasn’t enough, we had lunch at the cafetorium.

“Just think,” said James, “I could have sat in Xavi’s seat, or Jordi Alba’s seat, or Busquets seat!”

We are travelling with another American family whose son is just as nuts about soccer as James is. Our two families are staying in Granada, Spain, the 13th largest city in Spain, nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We’ll call this place home for 10 days and travel around the automonomus community of Andalusia in search of an otherworldly futbol experience.

Our sons will practice with youth academy teams from Malaga, Granada, and Almeria. In between, they will play futbol wherever and whenever they can. Futbol will transcend language and create bonds beyond our wildest expectations. As grown-ups, we will see, feel, smell, taste, and touch this beautiful culture, rich with history and take with us an unrequited love of Spain.